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#77 First Among Sinners

Summary:

As we learn more about the Faith, we learn about right and wrong.  And sin.  If we're not careful, that knowledge can lead us to judge others rather than repent of our own faults.  How do we stay focused on our sins?  And what's the best way to approach people about their faults?  Watch to find out!

Questions:

As you watch the episode, consider:

1. Who is the only person in humanity to never sin? 

2. Accepting the fact that we are all sinners, what is the healthiest way to deal with the sins of someone else?

3. What is the greatest of all sins?  Is there a sin worse than another?  Are there any sins greater than the love of God?

4. Thinking about the words of Saint John the Chrysostom, how should we view our sins as we approach the Chalice of Holy Communion?

Check out these model lesson plans / retreat sessions for JOY and GOYA!

Links:

And here are some articles you may find to be helpful:

1. Bible Gateway, John 8

2. Mystagogy, Wise Lesson From Saint Moses the Ethiopian

3. Dr. Albert Rossi, Becoming a Healing Presence, Desert Mothers 

4. Mystagogy, Church Fathers: On the Publican and the Pharisee

Script:

Hey everybody this is Steve and sin can be a distraction.  As we learn more about God and

Christianity and grow in the faith we can learn more about right and wrong.  We learn more about sin.  Which is a good thing if leads us to repentance, to deal with the brokenness and darkness and ugliness that our awareness of our sin uncovers in our souls.  But that awareness of sin can sometimes lead us to focus on the sins of others rather than on our own. 

In fact we can pretty much count on being faced with this temptation and unfortunately judging others is a pretty easy way for us to be distracted from our own spiritual work.  This is a tricky thing and we need to strike a careful balance.  On the one hand if we really love others we're going to want what's best for them.  We're going to want to help guide them out the self-destructive sins and bad habits and towards the peace and joy that God offers.  But we have to be really careful to not be motivated by pride. To not hurt people in a way that pushes them away from God rather than draws them towards His healing grace.

As we try to be the bee and strike that balance we should think about how we see our own sins and how we can share that spiritual honey that we have with others.  A perfect example for focusing on our own  sins is Abba Moses. Saint Moses committed many, many sins in his life.  He was a thief and a murderer who went around the Egyptian desert wreaking havoc on anything and anyone he could get his hands on.  Later when he came to repentance and became a monk in the Egyptian desert he became a renowned spiritual father and many people sought him for advice.  But he never forgot his own sins.  Once a fellow monk fell into sin and a council was called to determine his punishment.  At first Abba Moses refused to go but when the other monks asked him again he agreed.  But on his way he flung a basket of sand on his back and ripped a hole in the bottom of the basket.  As he neared the place where the council was being held, a group of monks asked him about the basket of sand.  Abba Moses replied: "I carry behind me my many sin where I cannot see them, and I come to judge the errors of another."  

You see what Abba Moses realized is that we're often not even aware of our many sins as they spill out into the world like sand from a basket.  We don't even realize the ways we hurt others, the ways we fail to follow the commandments, the ways we fail to love God and neighbor.  And yet somehow we still seem to  think that  we have the ability to clearly judge the sins of others.  We're looking at the person in front of us instead of basking on our backs and a long trail of sand behind us.  

Fighting this temptation is a constant battle but the Church gives us ways to turn our attention back onto our own lives.  For instance one of the ways we prepare ourselves to receive Holy Communion is with certain prayers and perhaps the most well-known of them is this one by Saint John Chrysostom: "I believe and confess Lord that you are truly the Christ, the Son of the Living God, who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the first."  We see this theme again and again in the pre-communion prayers which were written by several Church Fathers. Their powerful reflections on sin and unworthiness, but not the sin of others. Their reflection is on my sin, because I am the greatest of sinners.

Yet we don't reflect on our sins to beat ourselves up. This confession is balanced with hope because no sin can compare to the immeasurable love and mercy of God.  "For it is not the light heart, Christ my God, that I venture to approach you.  But I trust in your inevitable goodness."  We trust in the mercy of God who wants us all to be with Him in His Kingdom, to share with us His joy and peace, and life forever. 

Despite our sin, despite the pride and selfishness and anger and whatever else it is that we struggle with God really offers us the gift of salvation.  And this realization, that God loves us even though  we are sinners should cause us to love others even when they sin.  Especially when they sin.  If we're ever going to approach another person about their sin something we should rarely, if ever do, it needs to be with this humility and gentleness. 

In chapter 8 to the Gospel according to Saint John we read about a woman who was caught in sin.  The people took her and angrily wanted to punish her, to stone her.  When Christ encountered this woman He didn't join in the fear and anger of the crowd.  Instead He simply stated that only the person who was sinless should throw the first stone.  And He calmly wrote the sins in the crowd on the ground causing them to realize that none of them were without sin.  So, embarrassed and convicted by their conscience they left.  And its only then after Christ had protected the woman after the crowd had dispersed He turned to her "Woman where are those accusers and yours?  Has no one condemned you?   She said, 'no one, Lord.'  And Jesus said to her, 'neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.'"

It's true, Christ did tell the woman that she was sinning and that she should stop.  But only after He protected her, only after He had shown how much He loves her.  You see both Christ and the crowd recognized her sin.  Both Christ and the crowd wanted her to stop.  But while the crowd wanted to stone her, to punish her, Christ wanted to heal her.  It was love and not anger or judgment that led to her repentance.  So we should focus first and foremost on our sins, addressing first the wounds in our hearts, turning to God with honesty, humility, and trust in His mercy.  And if there's ever a time we need to help others turn from their sins we need to remember that we're fighting the battle against sin together.  We're not outside the struggle, We're in the midst of it! We're not free from our own basket of sand so we're not free to judge and condemn. 

In helping others to recognize their sins we should offer them the same love and patience that Christ offers us, the safety and space to turn towards our loving and merciful God. 

So let's Be the Bee and focus first on our own sins.  Be the Bee and live Orthodoxy!  Remember to like and subscribe and share.  I'll see you all next week.

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