Orthodox America

  On Confession

 Archimandrite Ioann Krestiankin

The Fifth Beatitude (contd.)

Blessed are the merciful. . .

Who among you works honestly all the hours you are supposed to, without indulging in distractions, giving to it all your energy, knowledge and patience?  This applies especially to those who work for a flat wage.  We get paid in full regardless of whether we put in an honest day's work or not.  If we use time at work for other things, the money we receive is yet another example of dishonest gain.

We do not consider this a sin, even though we are in fact deceiving the government, stealing time and money from society. Perhaps some of you might think, "Well, almost everyone acts that way; it's a rare individual who is a real worker."  But Christians, by their calling, are supposed to be especially honest and conscientious workers, to do every job as if it were assigned by the Lord Himself, who observes with what zeal, honesty and conscientiousness we work.

We read in the Morning Prayers: ". . . by Thy loving-kindness I strive to do Thy works."  What are these works of the Lord?  All those tasks which we undertake at home for the family or at work, or obediences, in the case of monastics, tasks which are ours to do-these are those "works" that the Lord has entrusted us with at the present time, and we will answer first of all to Him whether we have performed our duties honestly and conscientiously. Many of us don't think about this. We work any which-way, just trying to make the time go by faster, to get more money, to work less and with less effort.

Say someone is working in the fields. He slips something into his pocket on the sly and-home. This, too, is stealing.  Later the fellow looks at it: "Hey, what nice tomatoes (cucumbers, apples, whatever the case may be). I'll take them to my sick neighbor.  The poor man is ailing; he'll enjoy them!" We rejoice as if we're doing a good deed.  But this kind of gift is vile in the eyes of God. See how our corrupt conscience deforms our understanding of what is good!

There are certain conditions which must be met if our alms are to have any real value.  St. John Chrysostom says, "Almsgiving consists not simply in giving money, but in giving with a Christian feeling of charity."  This means that the giving must be voluntary, willing, joyful, with respect and unfeigned love for the poor, with a feeling of gratitude towards the receiver, remembering that "It is more blessed to give than to receive." With our assistance, we must try not to humiliate, not to offend the person whom we want to help. Further, St. John Chrysostom says, "If someone does not have such an attitude, it is better that he not give, for this will not be charity but a senseless waste."

Let us examine our life and our conscience: Are we doing good gladly? That great master of human souls, Bishop Theophan the Recluse, said, as if speaking of himself, in order to convict those who came to him for advice: "I am very greedy, because everything that I give to others, I give grudgingly." These words convict us, too.  We, too, are like that. We don't give at all, or we give reluctantly.

Finally, our almsgiving must be done in secret. We must help not out of vainglory or self-love, not from a desire for gratitude or reward from God, but from sincere love for our neighbor!  If, moreover, you begin to "trumpet" your deeds, then vainglory will join with hypocrisy.  And then the good which others see you do will be accounted to you for evil. Therefore, take care!  In doing good, it is better that you yourself not know about it, i.e., straightway forget about it, and go on to other things.  Then the right hand will not have time and will not want to know what the left hand is doing.  And God, Who sees in secret, will reward you openly.

While we are at peace with those whom we have helped out, we somehow don't remember our small acts of kindness, of service towards them; but the moment a quarrel breaks out or some animosity, we begin to enumerate all the good deeds we did for our "enemy," and murmur at his ingratitude. Here's where all the vainglorious emptiness of our charity is revealed. Lord, forgive us sinners, and teach us to do good in a Christian manner, in the name of love and for Thy glory!

We have been speaking at some length here about deeds of mercy towards our neighbor; and, in view of our time limitations, it seems we should move on to the second side of this virtue, the spiritual side.  But we have not yet discussed our relationship with those closest to us, our parents.  Here, too, we have cause for repentance. Is it not true that we consider it a burden to feed them, to clothe them, to look after them in their old age? Have we provided them with all they need?  Has anyone forced his mother or father out of the house?  We have to admit, as terrible as this is, that it does happen among us Christians. Perhaps, using artful reasoning, we sent them off to live with another of their children or to a rest home? Perhaps we refused to take out of the hospital an ailing parent, unwilling to take care of one who for years had raised us, who had spent sleepless nights by our crib, sacrificing everything in order to bring us up?

Or maybe the reverse is true.  Perhaps we persuaded our parents to come live with us-not out of sincere love and a desire to serve them, but in order to receive more living space or a separate apartment*, or so that our mother might be an unpaid nanny and housekeeper in the house.  Later, once the children were grown and mama got old, became weak and began to require care, then she began to be an annoyance!

If, among those of you here who have come to repent before the Lord, there are any who have this sin on their conscience, hasten to change the situation while your parents are still alive; or, if it is already too late, then weep and repent, ask forgiveness of them and of the Lord, pray for your departed parents, and give alms on their behalf.

(Translated from Opit postroyenie ispovedi, Sviato-Uspenskovo Pskovo-Pecherskovo monastyria, 1993.6)