Four days ago was the commemoration of the departure of the late Metropolitan Anthony Bloom. I have read two simple books of his on prayer “Beginning to Pray” and “Living Prayer“, and this sums up what he is best known about, his spiritual teachings on prayer.
Before Fr. Thomas Hopko passed away, I listened to one of his podcasts where he read off Metropolitan Anthony’s homily, “How Can I Deal With My Sinful Condition?”, one of the most powerful sermons I have heard anywhere, and truly hits at the heart of those who feel a sense of spiritual despair where one’s sins seems never-ending.
I think it is a much needed sermon, and thanks to “Agia Zoni” and “Living Orthodox Theology“, I would like to post this sermon here as well, in honor of his memory and in solidarity with all fellow sinners, of whom I am chief, who feel touched by this homily as I have been:
In the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.
So often we ask ourselves and one another a very tormenting question: How can I deal with my sinful condition? What can I do? I cannot avoid committing sins, Christ alone is sinless. I cannot, for lack of determination, or courage, or ability truly repent when I do commit a sin, or in general, of my sinful condition. What is left to me? I am tormented, I fight like one drowning, and I see no solution.
And there is a word which was spoken once by a Russian staretz, one of the last elders of Optina. He said to a visitor of his: No one can live without sin, few know how to repent in such a way that their sins are washed as white as fleece. But there is one thing which we all can do: when we can neither avoid sin, nor repent truly, we can then bear the burden of sin, bear it patiently, bear it with pain, bear it without doing anything to avoid the pain and the agony of it, bear it as one would bear a cross, — not Christ’s cross, not the cross of true discipleship, but the cross of the thief who was crucified next to Him. Didn’t the thief say to his companion who was blaspheming the Lord: We are enduring because we have committed crimes; He endures sinlessly… And it is to him, because he had accepted the punishment, the pain, the agony, the consequences indeed of evil he had committed, of being the man he was, that Christ said, ‘Thou shalt be with Me today in Paradise.’
I remember the life of one of the divines, the story of one who had come to him and have said that he had led all his life a life that was evil, impure, unworthy both of God and of himself; and then he had repented, he has rejected all evil he had done; and yet, he was in the power of the same evil. And the divine said to him: There was a time when you lapped up all this filth with delight; now you perceive it as filth and you feel that you are drowning in it with horror, with disgust. Take this to be your reward for your past, and endure.
This is something which all of us can do: to endure the consequences, to endure the enslavement which is our patiently, humbly, with a broken heart; not with indifference, not with a sense that as we are abandoned to it by God, then, why not sin? But taking it as a healing perception of what sin is, of what it does to us, of the horror of it. And if we patiently endure, a day will come when our inner rejection of sin will bear fruit, and when freedom will be given us.
So, if we can, in all the ways we can, let us avoid sin in all its forms, even those sins which seem to be so unimportant, because the slightest crack in a dam sooner or later leads to its bursting. If we can — let us truly repent, that is turn away from our past in a heroic, determined act; but if we can do neither of them — let us carry humbly and patiently all the pain and all the consequences. And this will also be accounted one day by the Lord Who in a folkloric life of Moses, in response to His angels saying, ‘How long shall you endure their sins’ — the sins of the Jews in the wilderness, answered: ‘I will reject them when the measure of their sins will exceed the measure of their suffering’.
Let us therefore accept the pain as a redeeming pain, even if we cannot offer it as pain pure of stain. Amen.
May the prayers of the Theotokos first and last, St. Demas the repentant crucified thief, Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, and Fr. Thomas Hopko be with us all, and glory be to the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, both now and ever and to the ages of all ages. Amen!