Wednesday, January 20, 2016

No One in the Church is Perfect

It saddens me a greatly when I hear people speak negatively or judgmentally about someone who has fallen into trouble or done something wrong. Though we should never condone sin, we should never condemn the sinner or speak about them in such a way as to infer that we ourselves are without sin. No one in the Church is without sin; no patriarch, bishop, priest or lay person is without sin. We are a Church made up of sinners.

We are all called by God to live a life of holiness; to be saints that revel and live in the Light of His glory. But, we all fall short of our calling. Those who are truly in tune with God strive hard and honestly each and every day to achieve that holiness which restores the relationship with God that was lost because of the sin of our ancestors Adan and Eve.

Many of those whom we revere and honor as saints were also sinners. Men and women are not proclaimed saints because they are without sin. No, we honor them as saints exactly because they were sinners; precisely because they overcame their sin and responded to the call to holiness. We hold them up as examples to follow because they did not give up the struggle and continued fighting the good fight, despite its many difficulties and obstacles.

When a person falls or fails in some way, we should not be quick to condemn or judge him. No one makes the right decision all the time and sometimes there are mitigating circumstances which cause a person to make a decision that is outside the norm of acceptable behavior. That is not to say that someone who makes a conscious decision to do wrong should be given a pass. There are certainly, and sadly, people who have chosen to live an evil life, individuals who have set aside the path of righteousness to do the work of the evil one. Nor should we look the other way when a good person makes the wrong decision and does something wrong. On the contrary, we have an obligation, in charity, to bring the matter to the person's attention and, if necessary, admonish, even chastise, such a person. In every case, we should offer guidance and Christian counsel with the intent to correct and change behavior that goes against the Gospel and the common good.

To be a model Christian we must first acknowledge our sinfulness; we must admit that we are not perfect. When we do this, we take the first step in truly turning our lives around and becoming what God created us to be in the first place: saints. Becoming a saint is not as difficult as one may think. All it takes is an understanding that we must continually fight against the temptations thrown at us by the world to live against the Gospel. It is easy to succumb to those temptations but it is not hard to withstand against them. We only need to recognize that we are not alone in our struggles; that God is with us and that He gives us the power by His grace to overcome all difficulties, obstacles and struggles put in our way.

The key to living a holy life is obedience. We must all be obedient to the will of God and the commandments of the Lord. Those who practice obedience live the life of the Spirit. There is no better way to live in this life than to walk the path of obedience, for it gives to the one who faithfully observes it happiness, rest, freedom, forgiveness, and a host of many other good things. Obedience to the will of God and His commandments is an impenetrable armor against the slings and arrows of temptation and the work of the devil. It also enhances humility, which allows us to see things about ourselves and others that keep us from entering into a more intimate communion with God. 

Humility allows us to hold our tongues, especially a those times when it would be easy to condemn, ridicule or criticize our brothers and sisters for something they said or did that does not agree with or please us. It is easy to point out the sins and failures of others and ignore our own failings and shortcomings. 

The chief cause of criticism, slander and condemnation of others is pride and egotism, because one considers himself or herself better than others. For this reason, it is always better to think of oneself as being inferior to everyone else. This is what the saints have always done. They put everyone else first and themselves last. They focus in on their own unworthiness rather than that of their brothers and sisters. In this way, the saints, by turning inward in prayer and meditation on the things of God, have found a spiritual treasure.

We must be very attentive that we do not judge any soul. For God permits the one who judges his neighbor to fall, so that he learns to have sympathy for his weak brother. The mercy of God supports us all, but if we become proud, God will remove His grace and we will become worse than the others.

Do not be so quick, my friends, to expel someone out of the Body of Christ, out of the Church, who has fallen or sinned. Repentance is a gift that all of us can use to its fullness. A person who is truly repentant has responded to the cleansing breath of the Holy Spirit and has the grace of the Spirit within him. Every one of us must bear the weaknesses and faults of others.

Who is perfect? Is your patriarch, archbishop, metropolitan, bishop, priest, or deacon perfect? Shall we cast them out of office or from the Church because they are not perfect or because they have sinned in some way? Is your wife or husband perfect? Shall you seek a divorce because someone left the dishes undone, or didn't take the garbage out, or forgot to pickup the clothes at the dry cleaners? Are our children perfect? Should we disown them because they walk around with purple hair, or because they like rock music and not classical, or because they don;t want to be a lawyer or a doctor? 

The Church is a spiritual hospital. What physician would turn away someone who is sick? And what physician would not provide and continue care for someone who has been healed? Preventive medicine is just as important as emergent care. And preventive medicine is the Church's area of specialization. We not only treat the disease, but we treat the symptoms and the causes. Yes, there are times we must cut out the cancer, but we must be very careful not to see individuals in the Church as the cancer; rather it is the cancer and disease within them that we must eliminate. Even if, after a period of time, the case is proven to be terminal and death is imminent, we are still obliged to care for the individual and to do all in our power to relieve his or her pain and suffering until death occurs.

Certainly there is behavior which cannot be tolerated and which requires censure, but let us not be quick to go to the extreme. Justice must be measured according to the offense, and there can no true justice without mercy. And in every case we must refrain from condemnation or injecting our personal agenda or beliefs into our evaluation of a particular matter or subject. Justice must be measured out according to the tenets of the Gospel and not by the standards of the world.

Forgiveness is very much a part of our Christian Tradition and life. A person who is truly repentant is to be forgiven without condition. This is the manifestation of true Christian love; a person who acts in such fashion will receive abundant blessings from God. But the person who judges and does not forgive brings condemnation upon himself and will learn the lesson of humility through suffering.

Human experience has proven time and time again that it is wrong to accuse and condemn someone without letting him defend himself. We must always be willing to listen to the "other side of the story." A good Christian will listen to everything and then prayerfully discern the truth. A Christian must be like the many-eyed Cherubim, who sees everything from every different perspective. 

Do not let the sun go down with anger against your brother still in your heart. Doing so will make the Holy Spirit flee from you and God's grace will be withdrawn from you. Remember always that the standards by which you judge others will be the standards by which you will be judged. If you set your standards too high, others will expect the same from you and if you fall, your fall will be greater than if you set the bar a bit more realistically. Remember, we are all sinners and no one is without sin. None of us is perfect. Only God is perfect. And we have not yet received our deification, though hopefully we all will, by God's grace and our cooperation with it.