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Σάββατο, 21 Ιουνίου 2014

Correcting Our Hear

We are sons of the fallen, conceived in iniquity and we come forth into the light with corruptible natures; in the font of holy Baptism we are born anew, into a holy life.No one can boast of being immaculate or sinless or capable of presenting himself before God as holy. Therefore, every person must enkindle and warm within his heart an inspired determination towards self-improvement and a divine zeal for cleansing the heart from anything and everything which is not pleasing to God. 

However, to educate oneself in what is holy is a task which is exceedingly difficult and complex.The path towards righteousness lies through many hidden crossroads, and anyone embarking on the commendable spiritual struggle of self-amendment must unfailingly make a preliminary tracing in his mind of what he is to correct and how. He is to constantly bear this sketch in his mind and heart in order that with this as a faithful guide, he might without hindrance and more certainly bring his task to a successful conclusion.

What is it we must correct in ourselves? Almost everything there is within us. Sin loves absolutism. If it finds a place in our heart, then already it is in control, spreading its evil power throughout our entire being. For sinful man and sinful humanity it is the same; there is no purity: From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it.(Isa 1:6). Each person can easily prove this to himself by closely examining his sinful heart. There he will discover the kernel of evil, the initial awakening of sin, and also how it manifests itself when it surfaces.

The seed of all moral evil is self-love. It lies in the very depths of the heart. Man, according to his calling, should forget about himself, his life, his activities; he should live solely for God and for others. In consecrating all that he does by elevating this as a sacrifice of thanksgiving to God the Savior, he should offer his life and all its activity entirely for the benefit of his neighbors, and shower upon them all that he receives from the Bountiful One, i.e., God.One does not exist without the other; it is impossible to love God without loving one’s neighbors, just as it is impossible to love one’s neighbor unless one loves God. Likewise, in loving God and one’s neighbor it is impossible not to sacrifice oneself for the glory of God and the good of one’s neighbor. 

But when a person separates himself from God—in his thoughts, his heart, his desires—and consequently also from his neighbor, then naturally he comes to dwell upon himself alone: His “I’ becomes the focus towards which he directs everything else, to the neglect even of the divine precepts and the good of his neighbor.Here, then, is the root of sin. Here is the seed of all moral evil. It conceals itself deep within the heart. As it grows, however, it spreads and draws to the surface, emerging in three forms, three trunks, as it were, all permeated by its power, its energy. These three are: self-exaltation, self-interest and love of pleasure. The first causes a person to say in his heart: “I am number one;” the second: “I want to haveeverything;” the third: “I want to live for my own enjoyment.”I’m Number One.

What soul has not experienced such a thought? And it is not only observed among those who by nature are gifted with superior talents, or who have managed to accomplish something important or beneficial; such persons may be prone to mentally exalt themselves above their fellow man. What we observe is that self-exaltation is found in all ages, ranks and circumstances; it shadows a person through all the mental and moral stages of perfection; it does not depend on any external conditions. Even if a man should live alone, in anonymity, far removed from everyone and anyone, he is never and nowhere free from the temptation of self-exaltation. It all starts from the moment man received into his heart the first flattering suggestion of the serpent Be as Gods. From that time forth man began to exalt himself above his fellow creature; like a god, he began to place himself above that position in which he was placed by nature and by society. This is a sickness common to each and all of us. It seems there’s nothing dangerous in indulging oneself with the thought that one is superior to someone else, to another, a third. But just look at how much evil, how much darkness is generated by this seemingly—to us—insignificant thought!

He who exalts himself above everyone else in his mind and heart, if he undertakes something, does so not according to the voice of reason and conscience, not according to the counsel of wisdom and the inspiration of the word of God, but according to his own understanding. He undertakes something because he desires to do so; he is self-willed, self-assured. If he should succeed in his undertaking, he attributes it to himself alone. This causes him to be high-minded, proud, pretentious, and ungrateful. In his relations with others, he wants his will to be done in everything and at all times; he wants everything to be subject to his control, he loves to exercise authority and is inclined to be coercive. In his relationships with others he cannot tolerate someone else’s advantage, no matter how minor its expression. He is disdainful and intractable. 

On encountering any transgression of his will, he is beside himself and becomes enflamed with revenge. If he possesses a strong character, he thirsts after glory and honor; if he has a weak character, he is hypocritical and vainglorious. He is audacious, capricious, haughty, inclined to gossip...Here, then, are the various forms in which self exaltation appears, and the many sinful movements which are indebted to self-exaltation for their genesis! And there is scarcely anyone who cannot convict himself of this sin in one or another of its forms.

I want to Have Everything

“I want everything to be MINE” determines the covetous man. This is the second outgrowth from the root of evil. It reveals most noticeably the spirit of self-love which acts here as a kind of independent entity; the covetous man does not say a word; he does not take a step or make a move unless it is to bring him some advantage. Everything about him is calculated, everything is so ordered, everything is motivated in such a way that time and place and objects and persons—in short, everything his hand or mind touches upon—bears their own related tributes into his coffers.

Personal gain or interest: this is the principal incentive which everywhere and always brings his entire being into a flurry of activity, and under its influence he is prepared to transform everything into a means to achieve his own ends; he will seek the highest ranks of dignity and honor if this is advantageous; he will accept the most difficult employment if it is more profitable than others; he will set his mind to endure any and every difficulty—he won’t eat or drink—if only his gain is realized. He is either mercenary or acquisitive or stingy, and only under the strong influence of vainglory is he able to lovesplendor and luxury. His possessions are dearer to him than life itself, dearer than people, dearer than the Divine commandments. His spirit is stifled, as it were, by things, and even lives through them and not of itself. It is here, then, where we observe the power and the sphere of influence belonging to this second outgrowth from the seed of evil—self-love! And who doesn’t have certain things which it would be as painful to part with as it would be to part with happiness?

I Want to Live for My Own Enjoyment

“I want to live for my own pleasure,” says the carnal man. His soul is mired in the flesh and in feelings. He doesn’t think about heaven, about spiritual needs or the requirements of the conscience or about responsibility. He doesn’t want to, nay, cannot think of this: Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.(Rom 8:7). His experience is limited to various forms of enjoyment; he cannot do without them; they occupy his thoughts and conversations.

If the carnal man begins to please his palate, he becomes an epicurean; the play of colors cultivates his taste for elegant dress; a variety of sounds inspires garrulousness; the need for food leads him to gluttony; the need for self-preservation leads him to laziness; other needs, to dissipation. Linked to nature through the flesh, the man whose soul is enslaved by his flesh drinks up pleasures from nature in as many ways as there are functions of his body. And together with these pleasures he absorbs the essential spirit of nature—the spirit of involuntary, mechanical operation. Consequently, the more a person indulges in self-gratification, the more limited is his circle of freedom. And whoever gives free reign to such indulgence may be regarded as an outright prisoner of his flesh.Conclusion

Here, then, is how evil grows within us from a tiny, almost imperceptible seed. In the depths of the heart, as we have seen, lies the seed of evil—self-love. From it there springs forth three branches, three variations, each filled with the seed’s power; self-importance, self-interest and carnality. And these three generate an innumerable multitude of passions and sinful inclinations.Just as the main trunks of a tree grow out into many branches, so, too, there arises within us a whole tree of evil which, taking root in the heart, later, spreads throughout our entire body, penetrates to the outside, and occupies our surroundings. One can say that a similar tree exists within everyone whose heart is in some way inclined towards sin. The only distinction is that in one person one branch is more fully developed, and in another person a different branch.

Why is it that for the most part we don’t notice this in ourselves and often think or even unashamedly say aloud: “What have I done?” or “What’s bad about me?” We don’t notice because we cannot. Sin won’t allow it. It is very sly and foreseeing. If a naked tree of evil, as we have described it, presented itself before the mind’s eye, there is no one who would not be immediately repulsed. For this reason, sin hastens to clothe the tree with leaves, to cover its hideousness, and it covers it in such a way that the soul in which the tree grows can distinguish neither its roots nor its trunk nor even its branches. These leafy coverings are distraction and an excess of worldly cares.

The distracted person doesn’t like to dwell within himself; the person preoccupied with worldly concerns hasn’t a spare minute. The first one simply cannot, and the second hasn’t time to take note of what goes on in his soul. With the first stirrings from sleep their soul hurries out of itself; in the case of the first it departs into a world of daydreams. In the latter it sinks into a sea of ostensibly necessary affairs.The present does not exist for them, and this essentially characterizes their activity. One prefers to live in a self-made world and touches upon reality only in part, unintentionally, superficially. The other, in his mind and heart, lives in the future. Everything he does he tries to finish as soon as possible in order to go onto the next; he begins this, and rushes towards a third. In general, only his hands, feet, tongue, etc. are occupied with the present, while his thoughts are all directed towards the future. In such a state, how can they possibly discern what lies concealed in the heart?

Sin, however, is not content with this leafy covering alone, for it is not impervious to penetration; its leaves can be blown aside by the winds of misfortune and by inner shakings of the conscience, thereby exposing the tree’s grotesque form. Therefore, sin creates of itself a kind of impenetrable covering resembling stagnant murky water in which it submerges its tree together with its foliage. This covering is composed of ignorance, insensibility and negligence. We don’t know the danger that threatens us and therefore we are unaware of it, and because we are unaware of it we give in to negligence.Here in general terms is all which we stand to change in ourselves; here is that broad field of activity in the holy spiritual struggle of self-amendment! We must strip sin of its covering, chase from our souls negligence, insensibility, self-delusion, distraction and excessive “busy-ness.” We must chop off its branches, all carnal passions and inclinations; finally, we must extirpate its very root by chasing out self-love. How? We do this by means of self-denial.

This task is neither small nor simple. The sinful uncleanness described above covers the soul not like dust which can be blown off with a breath of air. No, it has penetrated our very being, it has grafted itself onto our being and become a part of us, as it were. For this reason, to liberate oneself from it is the same as to separate oneself from oneself, to pluck out an eye or cut off a hand. Such difficulty, however, should not overwhelm us; rather, it should rouse us from our negligence.

He who earnestly desires salvation does not look at the obstacles to his goal; they only cause him to be more stalwart, to set to work with greater determination and to begin even more zealously the saving task of self-amendment.

By St. Theophan the Recluse,

from “OrthodoxAmerica,” translated from “Pisma o Khristianskoi Zhizni,” Moscow, 1908

source : Orthodox Heritage Greek Orthodox Christian Brotherhood of St. POIMEN

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