From The Blog

Monthly Meditation – November 2010

“The first and most essential means of making peace with those who offend and persecute us is to pray for them, according to the command of Christ.”

St. Leo of Optina

In general it is my belief, both from personal experience and from the shared experiences of others, that being offended is the problem of the offended—not the offender. I doubt that the man with a modern mind will agree. The modern mind is blame-oriented, usually willing to look for any reason other than oneself as the cause of why one feels bad, hurt, or unjustly treated. Sadly, our society has become so insensitive to this orientation that to many even the very thought of taking responsibility for e's own actions, let alone feelings, is virtually inconceivable. Anger, depression, self-love are all at the core of this prideful affliction. St. Leo clearly gives us here the means by which we can root out the causes of taking offense, and learn even a little of what Jesus meant when He said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9).

There can be little doubt that America is a Protestant nation, if not in a Christian way then at least in regards to the root word, protest. And it seems to be getting worse and worse. Another political cycle is upon us and regardless of one's affiliation we see again how often there is little respect there is for those with opposing views. We see it not only in government but also in corporate America, academia, unions, churches; it degrades marriages, families, friendships, communities, business partnerships. Disrespect, cynicism, sarcasm, slander, lack of trust for authority and even each other, it seems rare that anyone can even give the benefit of the doubt anymore. There is a rush to accuse, and for the accused, a rush to vindicate. As a result the real issues that face the greater community get swept under the rug of an emotional distaste for open, honest dialogue, while our relationships, government, businesses, remain broken by the tyranny of taking offense.

Who is going to make the first move? As Orthodox Christians we can only look within ourselves. Why is this? Fundamentally it is because we eschatological beings. Big word, I know. All it means is that as members of Christ's body our vision of life is not primarily of this world but more importantly of the Kingdom of God: both the kingdom present (did not our Lord say, “the kingdom of God is in the midst of you”?) and in the kingdom that is coming upon us (I believe (in) the life of the kingdom to come”). In this light, peace takes on a wholly (and holy) different meaning. It is not about letting ourselves be walked on nor is it about laying down weapons during times of war. Rather it is about persons, individuals, learning what it means to love God, to love our neighbor, and to love our enemies, and how love is applied in each person's life. It is about individuals whose faith in God and His Providence is not complicated, even while all around us many things are being worked out on many different levels in many e's lives, including our own! Yet how easy it is to judge when we only see part of a picture. How easy it is to condemn when we conclude a person's views or actions unworthy of our love. How sad it is when one's vision of life has been reduced only to what can be seen, touched, tasted, acquired, protected— allowing the brutality of malice and ambition to humiliate our capabilities for compassion and understanding. How even more sad it is when many do not even know this to be the condition of our lives, living in veiled self-interest and distrust.

Man is better than this, and in this instance only will I say that we, especially as Orthodox Christians, should know better! And yet we (I) cannot fall into the traps of a polite society with patronizing statements such as, “He should have known better.” Certainly we can strive for basic expectations between men, but realistically every man, woman, and child is capable of tremendous struggle. That is why our only hope is in the Light of Christ, and our participation in things holy, while remaining united in the body of Christ through the Confession of sins, God's forgiveness and the Holy Eucharist. When these things are truly before us as priority and purpose, with the understanding of sin and with compassion for one another, how much easier it is for us first of all simply to pray, to pray for one another and especially to pray for those with whom we are at odds. In this light, who knows, maybe one day each of us will learn how not to be offended by anything. Maybe one day each of us will learn that it takes much less energy to love someone than to condemn them. Maybe one day each of us will learn that this command of Christ is exactly what He did for each of us, and that in Him we are indeed capable of doing the same for one another; thereby showing the world that our life in Christ is not of this world, and by our obedient examples of working for eternal solutions to our temporal problems each of us will show the world what it means of be a son of God.