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Monthly Meditation – February 2011

“When God sees that we are proud and arrogant, He allows for the presences of temptations in our life. He will take them away from us only when He sees that we humble ourselves.”

Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain

Humility is indisputably one of the most, if not the most, important of the virtues. Humility is sometimes called a path and it is on this path that we journey towards the kingdom of God. The Elder Paisios here is trying to help us understand this path and that the presence of temptation in our life is the consequence of pride and arrogance, the consequences of ego, which leaves us open, vulnerable, what some might call “rudderless.” Generally the truly proud and arrogant are completely unaware of the presence of temptation, living with sin in a seemingly contented manner. For the sincere believer, however, God's grace and the movement of the conscience allows for the recognition of sin which hopefully leads the repentant to seek to overcome his pride and arrogance with humility and hope.

The reason I am meditating on this is because as a priest I hear in every sincere confession the desire to understand why confession after confession our sins are generally the same. The simplest explanation as to why our sins are repetitive, based on the words of Elder Paisios, is because we lack humility. But I would also like to address a concern that people might see this condition as hopeless. Certainly in the condition of the fall we cannot avoid temptation and sin. But does that mean we must simply surrender to the inevitability of the condition? Does God abandon His beloved when we sin? Of course not! If this were to be the case we would all be in grave trouble. It is with this in mind that I believe there are both negative and positive aspects to the sin of pride and arrogance.

Hopefully the negative aspects are obvious: being tempted and giving in without recognition of our sin and the desire to change. The positive, however, comes from personal reflection wondering whether or not sin has any redemptive quality. My question is this: “How might God use our sins to help us stay close to Him?” The answer is, He uses our sins to humble us. When my sin causes enough pain to my soul, my body will soon learn it can do nothing right without God. This is the beginning of humility. Maybe we can see a progression like this: sin, pain of sin, self-examination, self-knowledge, repentance, humility, knowledge of God.

I speak about these things with one hope-filled purpose: to remind people that no matter what temptation or sin may befall us, or how often, there is always repentance (cleansing) and the promise of forgiveness. True humility understands this promise. Which is why Elders like Paisios radiate joy. They are free from themselves and therefore free for God to show us through them His power and love.

In addition, we must never forget that God has created us with a free will either to accept or reject Christ and His commandments. It is within this freedom that we must beware of what life might be like when men choose to live without Christ and His commandments. One would hope that in freedom men would not drift so far away that they become incapable of finding their way back to their Creator. Consider Matthew 12:43-45 and the man from whom the unclean spirit had “gone out,” leaving the man's life “empty, swept and in order.” Then the unclean spirit, needing a place to rest, returned to the man along with seven other spirits “more evil than himself,” leaving the man in a state “worse than the first.” Beloved, it is the condition before the return of the unclean spirits that may point toward a proud and arrogant life without God. This may be the only positive reason why God allows men to remain in their sin: through the experience of temptation and the consequences of sin men might seek Him more fully, more urgently. If not for these consequences man might never seek to humble himself, ultimately finding himself in a state where God is simply forgotten. Which is why ironically it is God's Love that allows the sin that separates a man from God to become the very tool that God uses to lead men back to Himself-and for this we are thankful!

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