This monk was lazy, careless, and lacking in his prayer life; but throughout all of his life, he did not judge anyone. While dying, he was happy. When the brethren asked him how is it that with so many sins, you die happy? He replied, “I now see angels who are showing me a letter with my numerous sins. I said to them, ‘Our Lord said: Judge not and you will not be judged (Lk. 6:37). I have never judged anyone, and I hope in the mercy of God that He will not judge me.’” And the angels tore up the paper. Upon hearing this, the monks were astonished and learned from it.
- St. Nikolai Velimirovich, Prologue
by A. F. Moritz
We won’t pretend we’re not hungry for distinction but what can ever distinguish us enough? This country, this language won’t last long, the race will die, later the cockroach, earth itself,
and last this beer bottle: silicon fused by man, almost indestructible, like a soul: it will go spinning ever farther from the nearest thing until space, continually deepening, drowns in itself.
Yet we keep a hungry eye on old schoolmates and everyone born in the year of our own birth, and spend the nights in ranting over them, their money, fashionable companions, pliant critics.
To live just a little longer than they do: that would be triumph. Hence exercise and diets, and the squabble over who will write the history of this paradise of demons casting each other out.
My kids have this mouthwash that turns the invisible tarter on their teeth an electric shade of blue, thereby showing them where to most concentrate their efforts when brushing. This poem, though certainly not one I’d have embroidered and hung in my living room, had a similar effect on my soul by shining a spotlight on some usually ignored dingy parts, thereby confronting me, with its in-your-faceness, on my secret struggle with pride. Sure, I find this piece to be oppressively depressing with its bleak and dismal take on life and community. I could not hold, in fact, a more opposite worldview. I believe passionately in mercy and redemption. That certainly did not keep me from squirming in my chair, however, upon reading aloud these lines composed expertly by Mr. Moritz - lines filled with truths in which I caught a glimpse of my own unedited reflection, and it was not pretty.
You know that bitter burning sensation in your gut that sometimes accompanies the announcement of an acquaintance’s job promotion, a friend’s grand accomplishment, or salary increase? It’s the same one I get when my kids act like manner-less, disrespectful animals in public. I experience it when I’m feeling fat and see a trim and muscular spandex-clad woman jogging past me, or when I’m feeling frazzled and walk into the home of a mother who has a place for everything, a plan for everything, a seemingly calm and organized existence that contrasts harshly with the chaos emanating from my person like the cloud of dust and debris hovering 24/7 around the Peanuts character, Pig Pen. Well, I hate it. I’m sick of it. Envy, insecurity: they are two sides of the same sorry coin.
My desire, no matter how subtle, to appear just a bit more successful, more pious, more disciplined than my peers - more successful, more pious, more disciplined than I am, is a hellish and inhibitive longing preventing me from the freedom known only to the truly meek and humble. Until I chisel out from the crevices and corners of my heart the egotism that can one second have me wallowing in guilt and self-loathing and the very next casting judgment on the motivations, actions, or inaction, of a fellow human being, I’ll be forced to trudge toward salvation with a cumbersome weight around my ankle instead of sprinting lithely, fueled by a love, as described in the book of I Corinthians, that is not jealous, does not brag, does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, but rather bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.
What does it mean to believe boldly? To take a stand against ___________? Well, just fill in the blank. There’s no shortage of un-Christian attitudes, legislation, opinions to disagree with. Christians oppose Yoga, I read on the front page of the Yahoo website last week. We oppose, we oppose, we’re against, we’re fighting back, we followers of Christ have exchanged our feet washing rags for cold and metal suits of armor. And how approachable does that make us, I wonder? I mean, I understand the concern that befriending, without an agenda, individuals with moral standards, political opinions, or theological principles not in compliance with our own could be misconstrued as acceptance of what we would consider to be sinful and foolish behavior. I’m not proposing, at all, that we compromise our beliefs or blend seamlessly into our secular surroundings. I think we absolutely should stand-out, like light, like salt, like a meager meal of fish and bread shared miraculously with the multitudes, but not because of what we oppose, rather because of what we’re for: a Christ-like love that defies logic, fear, racism, selfishness, self-consciousness, condemnation, rejection, negativity.
I like the way the insightful Elder Paisios explains his position on the matter:
I know from experience that in this life people are divided in two categories. A third category does not exist; people either belong to one or the other. The first one resembles the fly. The main characteristic of the fly is that it is attracted by dirt. For example, when a fly is found in a garden full of flowers with beautiful fragrances, it will ignore them and will go sit on top of some dirt found on the ground. It will start messing around with it and feel comfortable with the bad smell. If the fly could talk, and you asked it toshow you a rose in the garden, it would answer: "I don't even know what a rose looks like. I only know where to find garbage, toilets, and dirt." there are some people who resemble the fly. People belonging to this category have learned to think negatively, and always look for the bad things in life, ignoring and refusing the presence of good.
The other category is like the bee whose main characteristic is to always look for something sweet and nice to sit on. When a bee is found in a room full of dirt and there is a small piece of sweet in a corner, it will ignore the dirt and will go to sit on top of the sweet. Now, if we ask the bee to show us where the garbage is, it will answer: "I don't know. I can only tell you where to find flowers, sweets, honey and sugar; it only knows the good things in life and is ignorant of all evil." This is the second category of people who have a positive way of thinking, and see only the good side of things. They always try to cover up the evil in order to protect their fellow men; on the contrary, people in the first category try to expose the evil and bring it to the surface.
I don’t care if it sounds naïve, I want so badly to become that bee. I want to err on the side of loving too much, hoping too much, of too often giving my brothers and sisters in Christ, my neighbors, my co-workers, anyone I come into contact with, the benefit of the doubt. I want to genuinely rejoice (without the slightest hint of bitterness) with those who rejoice and weep (minus the gossipy “I told them so-s”) with those who weep. I want to care less about defending my honor and more about serving. I want to keep my mouth shut (and my fingers away from this keyboard ) if I’ve got nothing affirming to say. I want to focus in on the plank in my own eye. God forbid I should ever begrudge, belittle, humiliate when I could have promoted peace and compassion. Please, please forgive me if I have ever hurt your feelings, or talked about you behind your back. I apologize if even once I have made a negative assumption about your faith, your intentions, your choices.
I am sending my imperfect love to you and trusting that Christ can purify it and with it, heal us all.