Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Metropolitan gives advice to the young - and food for thought for all at the turning of the year

I found this meditation by a Ukrainian Metropolitan online. Regardless of our state in life (or age) this reflection should provide moments of penitent reflection for all. Especially as many consider "resolutions" for the new year, would we not all benefit from repentance over our sins and a true commitment to living the Christian life of love, charity, and virtue in the upcoming year?

Metropolitan Anthony (Krapovitsky) of Kiev

Ask the person confessing whether his conscience does not accuse him either of some crude outrage or insult against his parents or else of constantly offending them in small ways. Let him not think that this is an everyday triviality in family life. The Lord said to Moses, "He that curses his father or mother shall surely be put to death" (Ex. 21:16). This death sentence for one who reviles his parents is confirmed by the Saviour as being a commandment of God (Mt. 15:4; Mk. 7:10), although not in the sense of a criminal law concerning the death penalty, but in the sense that it is a mortal sin. This then is what the priest should say to an adolescent who is guilty of this: "When you grow older and, perhaps, bury your parents, then, believe me, on remembering such occasions, even while by yourself, you will blush from shame right up to your ears and wring your hands, wishing in vain to make amends for the sin which now seems so insignificant to you. For, although you cannot understand it now, when an insolent son or daughter grieves his loving parents with malicious words or rude disobedience, it is like thrusting a sharp knife into their breasts. You will understand this when you have your own children, but then in all probability it will be too late to wipe out your guilt before your deceased parents." The same thing, or nearly so, is experienced by teachers when their pupils are insolent to them; as a result of this, many become embittered and the sacred task of teaching becomes a torment both for the teachers and for the pupils. However, it is much easier for the latter to change this situation for the better, than it is for the former.

Guided by the desire to awaken or strengthen in the penitent a feeling of his guilt before God, put questions to him about which he probably does not think, but which reveal the wounds of his soul to him. To this end it is more profitable not to continue your questions in the accepted order of sins against God, against one's neighbour and then against oneself, but rather to ask them in the order which is most likely to awaken his conscience. You see, our contemporary flock has almost forgotten about its direct relationship to God. What sense is there in asking a person about going to church regularly or attention to prayer if he forgot the way to God's church years ago, and never so much as makes the sign of the cross in the morning or in the evening? "I am not used to praying," such people boldly answer, "but I live honorably and do no harm to anyone; but there are many who pray to God and devour people." If a spiritual father has managed to dislodge a sinner from such a self-satisfied position by using the basic questions we have indicated above, then let him thank God. However, it is still useful to continue asking questions in the same order, according to the degree in which the conscience of contemporary people is sensitive to them" i.e., first ask about sins against one's neighbour, then about sins against the Person of God and finally about sins which derange the inner life of the sinner himself.

And so, if a Christian thinks that he has never offended his neighbour, tell him: "That is good, but we must understand "offense" not only in the sense of what makes a person angry, but even more in the sense of what causes him harm. Thieves are strictly punished by the law and despised by people, but man has pleasures that are far more significant than money or things" his soul and his purity. Have you advised people to do anything evil or depraved? Have you made fun of any one's chastity or modesty, or of their obedience to their elders, their honesty at work or in their studies? When young people lose their innocence, modesty and obedience to their parents and even their honesty, it is always under the influence of bad examples and evil advice, but those who have turned them away from the good path entirely forget about them and about the evil they have done to them. They have sinned terribly before God, far worse than thieves and robbers. But far more criminal are those who, not content with giving treacherous advice when they are asked, also make efforts on their own initiative, sometimes over a considerable period of time, to lure an innocent person into a sin from which he will probably not be able to free himself for a long time, or even for his whole life. How many such tempters there are in any school, who will not be content until they have dragged their comrade into a public house or acquainted him with corrupt people. Nevertheless, who does not know Christ's words: "Whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in Me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea." (Mt. 18:6)? So, haven't you committed this sin? Have you purposely sowed the seeds of doubt in your neighbor's heart? Have you made fun of his piety? Have you driven him away from prayer and church? Have you sowed the seeds of discord between brothers, between husband and wife, between co-workers or comrades? All those who do things like this will understand how far from the truth is the prejudice that has long been commonplace in society" that prayer and religion in general are the helpers and servants of the devil. The devil acquires great power over them, since they have surrendered themselves to his will. The same fate awaits those who sin by slandering their neighbour, either in conversation or in print; it also awaits those who condemn their neighbours without being sure that they are guilty of anything.

Perhaps you have no opportunity to tempt or grieve your neighbor or lead him into disaster, and do not even wish to do so, but nevertheless, if you find out that some misfortune has befallen him, you glory over it rather than feel compassion for him. If this is so, see how black your soul is, and what a dangerous path you are on, for the Scriptures say that "Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer" (1 John 3:15). But you are not guilty of this, glory to God. However, are you not given up to remembrance of wrongs, even if it is not expressed as a desire for revenge? According to the words of our Lord, this makes your prayers quite worthless, and shows that your heart is filled with great self-love and self-justification. You are guilty of the same thing if you have the spirit of disobedience in the family, at school or at work; if you fulfill your obligations only when you can be made to answer for them and find satisfaction in doing something your own way. It was through this disobedience that sin came into the world, and it is precisely from this that criminals begin their sinful exploits" guided always by the spirit of self-justification. This demonic spirit leads them through the following steps: disobedience, laziness, deception, outrages against their parents, seeking sensual enjoyment, theft, rejecting the fear of God, leaving their father's house, robbery and murder and denial of the faith itself. When the person confessing hangs down his head, and you hear the voice of penitence in his speech and also that he is frightened by his sins, then tell him that these evil feelings of disobedience and especially of remembering wrongs and gloating over others misfortunes, grow up in a soul which likes to condemn everyone. This is sinful because a feeling of pleasure at others shortcomings always develops together with the habit of judging people without need. After this comes the desire not to recognize anything good in them, and this is already near to gloating over their misfortunes and even nearer to remembering wrongs. In secular or worldly society all this is considered praiseworthy " people openly make fun of obedience, or even become indignant at the very mention of it, expecting, on the contrary, that every subordinate, every soldier, workman, official and especially every professor should demand freedom upon freedom. This is expected especially of students and even of school boys. This spirit has even moved into the country and the parish, and even into the family, where only a strong paternal hand and the threat of being thrown out or of hunger can uphold that small amount of order that is left, which still protects the home from destruction. The last two years have shown where this foul teaching of self-will has led. Not to mention the fact that people have become villains almost to a man, they are also dying of starvation, going about in ragged clothes, are deprived of the possibility of studying and communicating with each other by letter " in a word, they have returned to the state of savages. How, through what struggle did our Saviour lead people out of their former life and make them righteous and intelligent? Through obedience! Through the obedience of one, many were justified.And even up to our days the highest form of piety, monasticism, consists primarily of obedience.

And so, young Christian, the priest will say, if you wish to be a good, intelligent person and not just a stupid sheep, another member of the flock, then do not agree with the crowd of your contemporaries who are perishing spiritually and physically, do not go by the path of self-will, but by the path of obedience.

Only then will you be a person; then, perhaps, of your many comrades you alone will not be a syphilitic at the end of your studies, will preserve your faith and your heart uncoarsened; truthful in word and honorable in soul, you will not be battered and storm-beaten like a weather vane, as are the majority of our contemporaries. But now you must know that, as you have admitted, you have already sinned much against God, and I am glad to see that you are filled with grief at the picture of your not insignificant sins, which have now been revealed to you and about which you probably did not even think previously.
 
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