Orthodox America

  A Guide to Confession - Part XVI, Conclusion

by Archimandrite Ioann Krestiankin 

The Ninth Beatitude (contd)

       You cherish some sacred object which is kept in your home: an icon which had carried a special blessing, a Gospel book, a bottle of holy water, and what words can convey your anguish when, coming home one day, you find your dear icon comer in shambles -- and it is your close ones who are responsible!

      Out of a sense of pity and compassion, for the sake of Christ, you selflessly helped someone -- and someone else slandered you, mercilessly accusing you of ulterior motives, of dishonesty, suspecting you of heaven only knows what. How difficult it is to endure such slander! You try to help out in some way in your parish, in a monastery, doing so from your heart, with great love. You put all your talents into it, all your abilities and physical resources. And what happens? People stubbornly refuse to understand you; they persecute you, they revile you and humiliate you, they push you around -- perhaps even physically. What courage it takes not to abandon what you are doing, not to lose your ardor, not to despair, and, most importantly, not to despise your persecutors! And how many other misunderstandings arise, erroneous impressions, inconceivable accusations -- that give rise to unbearable inner sufferings surpassing even the sufferings of the martyrs and the great exploits of the early Christian ascetics.

       We have come to the end of our confession, which we built upon the Sermon on the Mount. And probably each of you who sincerely repented has realized that he is "empty and naked" of spiritual virtues. It seems that one could fall into despair. What are we great sinners to do? Lord, we are incapable of doing anything. We have neither humility, nor meekness, nor purity of heart, nor love, nor even tears with which to lament our sins.

       In answer to such a despairing question, one ascetic responds, "If you can offer the Lord nothing else, then offer Him your life's cross and your sufferings.'' A great deal can be said about the benefit of suffering. But since this is the Mystery of Confession, i.e., an examination of our conscience, a spiritual clinic and bath, washing the filth from our hearts, we must acknowledge before the Lord that we cannot patiently and in a true Christian manner bear offenses, unpleasantnesses, injustices. We are all great complainers!

      Who among us accepts afflictions with joy, as a cleansing medicine from the Lord Himself? Who of us sees in his offender a heavenly friend and healer? Forgive us, Lord, for being so weak-spirited. We complain excessively -- to the point of adversely affecting our health. We become vexed with those who offend us, we harden our hearts and become impatient with others because we throw ourselves greedily at life, at happiness, which is vain, empty, and ephemeral like a dream. We regard it as higher than anything, higher than the Church, than God, than love for Christ. And what happens? It comes crumbling down, catching us unawares, making us bitter, resentful. We shed blood, sweat and tears; we ruin our health. But, alas, Lord! The sweat is a result of our inner turmoil, vexation, malice; the tears -- from feelings of hurt, from spite, from our inability to take revenge; the blood (illness) -- without faith. And because of this our soul does not benefit.

      Our disposition in the face of suffering is the touchstone of our spiritual growth. "Courage in the face of trials, a readiness to endure them -- these are signs of a healthy soul." Courageous souls instinctively seek sufferings as offerings and are spiritually strengthened by trials. For our light affliction which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory (II Cor. 4:17). And not only suffering that comes from without, but all spiritual effort, all voluntary deprivation, every act of self denial, every sacrifice we make, all are soon transformed into spiritual wealth within us." (Fr. Alexander Elchaninov)

Lord, forgive us weak-spirited ones! 

     It may be that someone here, unable to bear the burden of his trials, has contemplated suicide, has mentally reviewed ways of taking his life in order to bring an end to his suffering, thinking that in so doing he will at the same time spite his enemies. Repent!

Lord, forgive us sinners.

       When you approach individually for the prayer of absolution, confess such thoughts to the priest, for it is a grave sin that leads to perdition.

       We are able somehow to endure whatever we bring upon ourselves through our carelessness. However, there in Heaven our endurance profits us only if we endure innocently, with humility, without murmuring, regarding our misfortune or offense as a trial allowed by God. (Bishop Barham Ryashentsev)

       Alas, we all live in vanity. We expect a state of tranquility and happiness on earth, and when, instead, we are visited by sorrows, we lose heart, we fall into despondency. But listen to what the Apostle Paul says in explaining the great meaning of suffering for a Christian: For unto you it is given in behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake (Phil. 1:29). Do you hear that? It is given as a great mercy to suffer for the Lord; it is given us to believe, and to suffer. Saint Isaac the Syrian writes: Enduring sorrows for Christ's sake is of more value in the Lord's eyes than all manner of prayer and sacrifice, and the sweetest fragrance comes from the sweat of endurance.

      Elsewhere the Apostle writes, Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you. But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when His glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy (I Peter 4:12-13l. Have you reflected on these words of Holy Scripture?

       No, Lord. Many of us are hearing them consciously for the first time, despite our gray hairs. Forgive us! After all, there is nothing difficult about this passage, and it is readily accessible; it is found in the same book -- the book of the Good News -which is collecting dust on our shelves.

      We are going towards that which is too high, but that which we are leaving behind is too paltry. In this world, all our virtues are insignificant, all our understanding of truth. And for this reason nothing on earth is so noble or so beautiful as suffering for the sake of truth; there is nothing more luminous than innocent suffering. (Archbishop John Shakhovskoy) This is how great, courageous Christian souls thought and spoke.

      Lord, forgive us sinners! how far we are from such an understanding of Christian life!

      But every one of us desires to be saved. In the words of Saint John Chrysostom, there are three conditions for the salvation of a Christian soul: a) not to sin; b) having sinned, to repent; or c) lacking sincere repentance, to endure the trials that come his way.

      Now, who can declare that his repentance is sufficiently profound? Repentance is the path of deliverance from sufferings incurred as a result of sin. The strength of repentance should correspond to the gravity of the sin. If there is insufficient awareness of sin, if there is no strength to bear an active and profound repentance, then one must accept in humility those sufferings that are sent, and be grateful for them as a mercy of God, as a sign of His care for us.

      Lord, forgive us sinners!

      Our .sins are countless, and our understanding of spiritual life according to the Christian worldview is severely limited. But our Mother-Church is a spiritual hospital with an inexhaustible supply of medicines capable of healing our sinful maladies.

      We could continue speaking at great length with spiritual benefit. However, our time has long since run out.

Lord, accept our repentance.

      Now each must demonstrate to Thee, Lord, a firm resolve to renounce sin, to hate sin, to break with his former way of life. And to seal this resolve with a vow, to kiss the Cross and the Gospel, promising to amend his life.

      Lord, I sincerely desire this, and 1 pray Thee to help me fulfill my vow]

Lord, receive our prayer! O Lord, my Lord!

       I am a bottomless pit of sin; wherever I look within myself, all is spoiled. Nothing is as it should be. Whatever I recall, whether it is something I did or said or thought, it is all tainted by sin. The intentions and disposition of my soul -- all are an offense to Thee, my Creator and Benefactor. Defend me, Lord Jesus Christ, our God!

      I, a wretched man, have sinned, but do Thou, as the generous God, have mercy on me. Accept me in repentance. Give me time to bring to Thee fruits of repentance. I desire not to sm any more, not to offend Thee, Lord. Allow me to partake of Thy Holy Mysteries, that through them I may be filled with Thy grace. Destroy the sin living within me. Live Thyself in me, Immortal Lord, that neither life nor death be able to separate me from Thee!

"And by the judgments which Thou knowest," as Thou wishest, as Thou knowest, only save me, a poor sinner! And 1 shall bless and glorify Thy Most Holy Name forever. 

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


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