Dear Parish Faithful,
GREAT LENT: The Tenth Day
"We condemn others only because we shun knowing ourselves." ~ St. Seraphim of Sarov
In his new book, How to Be a Sinner, the Orthodox theologian, Dr. Peter Bouteneff, reflects on this joyful paradox: If we acknowledge that we are sinners; and if we repent and confess our sins, this is all a movement of freedom and liberation. This is so because such acknowledgement, accompanied by repentance and confession, is the path to salvation, and that means the reception of God's mercy, grace and love. And there is nothing sentimental about any of this, because we were "bought with a price" (I COR. 6:20) when the Son of Man came "to give his life as a ransom for many." (MK. 10:45).
The alternative is not attractive:
"Many of us spend a lot of our time and energy avoiding genuine self-discovery. We take refuge in the world's abundant noise, distractions, and mediocrity because even a glimpse of our sins can be horribly unpleasant." (p.42)
Dr. Bouteneff outlines five "benefits" that flow naturally from this self-knowledge. Below, I am offering a few of his insights under the heading of these five "benefits." Hopefully, they will further help us along the path toward God through self-knowledge of our sins, repentance and confession.
1. Perception of Reality
- "We cannot see things as they are if we do not see ourselves as we are." (p. 43)
- "To propose that I am sinless is essentially a guaranteed falsehood, a denial of reality, even in a relativistic and "post-factual" culture. (p. 44)
- "To the extent that we are also true to reality, we have a clearer relationship with ourselves, others, and God." (p. 44)
- "The liberation of our conscience, through admitting our sins, is linked to a kind of surrender." (p. 46)
- "The freest, least self-conscious people are usually those who know full well that they are broken, that they are sinners, and that they depend on a higher power for their very life." (. 47)
- "Self-knowledge and surrender to God's immeasurable love and strength don't turn you into a church mouse. Quite the opposite; you become fully alive, sure-footed and truly free." (P. 47)
- "Once we perceive and acknowledge our faults and surrender them to God, we have the deepened assurance of being loved and forgiven." (p. 47-48)
- "Living with and living into another's total love - especially God's - is painfully humbling. Strangely, we may prefer the feeling of being hated to the exposed... feeling of being totally loved." (p.48)
- "Whether people treat me like gold or dirt, I will always recall that I am known and loved, and that my life is taken up into the living God." (p. 48-49)
- "We are supposed to be entirely occupied with our own sin, to the extent that we rightly condemn ourselves." (p.50)
- "But condemning others as unworthy of God's salvation is wrong."
- "There is thus an inextricable connection between knowing one's one faults and the refusal or even inability to judge another person." (p. 51)
- "Our deepening realization of our own sin coupled with our increasing experience of God's mercy will fill us with compassion for others." (p. 52)
- "We will not pretend to know or fully understand the intricacies of the internal and external factors of their heart." (P. 52)
- "We will fervently wish for them nothing but God's grace, blessing, and love. We will pray that they come to a conscious knowledge of that love," (p. 52)
Dr. Bouteneff closes this section with an encouraging yet sober note:
"Living in reality, free and fearless, judging no one, with true compassion towards all, even as you work toward the correction of your life - these are the repercussions of a healthy knowledge of yourself, realistically acknowledging your sins and your total dependency on our loving God. These are gifts which may give you an inkling of why it might be worth embarking on the journey to seeing yourself as a sinner." (p. 52-53)
Dr. Bouteneff's approach, as these few insights will hopefully make clear, is very holistic, a genuine characteristic of good Orthodox theology. As we are in Great Lent, the season in which we confess our own sins in and through the Sacrament of Confession, I hope that some of the insights above will deepen that experience - and deepen our sense of the grace and love of God.
For those who would like to order and read this book, here is the link to SVS Press: