Saturday, April 5, 2008

27. Don't judge anyone for anything.

Good morning! Here is Lauren:

I feel at a loss for words as I read this maxim. What can I say about a rule I violate all the time? Perhaps this is why we say the Prayer of St. Ephraim every day, pleading for God to allow us to see our own sins, and as a consequence, to not judge our brother. I think it's interesting that we first ask of God for spiritual insight into the state of our own soul before our neighbor even comes into the picture. Like the parable of the speck in your friend's eye and the log in your own, if we truly look in the mirror at ourselves, it will be impossible for us to comment on the lives of others. Not that I don't try, sadly; I am all too skilled at seeing the faults of others. When reading this, I'm also reminded of God's mysterious timing in life, and His personal interactions with each person. Only God and the person knows where they are spiritually, and it may not be the place you think it is. St. John Climacus describes a scene where he chastises a monk for very sinful behavior, but found out later that the monk had already had a heartfelt repentance for his deed. From the outside, the monk appeared to be a wretched sinner, but on the inside he was made new. I should remember this story more often, since not a day goes by that I'm not judging, commenting on, complaining about, being irritated at, or labeling those around me. And who knows God's plan for people and situations? Certainly not me. Whatever it is that causes us to want to judge another, we should remember that we are faced with this situation so that God can teach us to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, and so that we can learn a little something new about ourselves and God in the process.

Friday, April 4, 2008

26. Don’t compare yourself with anyone.

Good morning! A wonderful meditation from Jeanine:

I have not opened my personal/spiritual journal in quite a while, but I used to write almost every day. If I had been writing recently, maybe I would have said . . .

March 30, 2008 (Third Sunday in Lent – Veneration of the Cross)

Dear Papa,

I’ve been Orthodox almost a year now and I don’t know who I am anymore. It was much easier for me to be an evangelical Protestant. When I compare myself to the other women in my church, I feel like such a spiritual midget. I can’t answer questions about the Orthodox faith like them, I don’t know how to pray like them and I certainly can’t sing like them. I can’t cook meals during Lent and I don’t have a clue how to make a Pascha basket. Where am I? Why have You brought me here? Is this something I can really do? Maybe I should just go to church on Sundays and be satisfied with that. I don’t think Peter knows I cried myself to sleep last night …

April 2, 2008 (Tuesday)

Dear Papa,

An idiot driver just about side-swiped me today on the way to work! I can’t stand people who drive really slow and then wander over into another lane like they are taking a stroll in a meadow or something. How hard is it to pay attention?! Why can’t everyone do what I do?!

My boss needed a file today and we looked in the staff cabinets to find it. She FINALLY noticed the horrible state of the filing system and said, “Now I know why you are having a hard time finishing the filing project I gave you.” I’m SO glad she saw for herself the horrible state in which “you-know-who” left everything. It’s a disaster! I could never work like that. My boss is extremely pleased with the way I’ve re-done her own files. “You-know-who” had absolutely no organization skills. The team has noticed, too; some of them have made comments about how I always know where everything is and am really efficient and tidy. I have my performance review soon and am quite sure I’ll get a good rating.

April 4, 2008 (Friday)

Dear Papa,

I know that comparing myself to my Orthodox sisters led me to discouragement and despair last weekend. Don’t really want to go back there. I want to remember what my friend Bob the Tomato in VeggieTales says, “God made you special and He loves you very much.” That means that I have something special to offer to the community of faith that no one else has. Will You show me what it is? Will you help me to offer it?

I know that speaking harshly against a stranger is wrong because James 4:12 says, “Who are you to judge another?” I have no idea what the woman driving that SUV was thinking or feeling when she almost smashed into me. And comparing myself to “you-know-who” is total pride. St. Basil the Great said, “Never place yourself above anyone, not even great sinners.” I really have to get over myself (yes, and go to confession!).

But, Papa, is it ALWAYS wrong to compare myself to someone else? How will I improve if I don’t look at others as a sort of benchmark? I need to see how another sister worships and prays in order to learn. I need to see that I’m better at something in order to help someone else improve. Ah – “in order to learn.” “In order to help…” Motive. Humility. Love. When I have the proper attitude, comparison will lead to improvement, not to despair and not to pride.

When I compare myself to Christ with the proper attitude, I will be humbled and I will truly worship. Which is the whole point.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

25. Don’t seek or expect pity or praise.

Good afternoon!. Here is the latest Maxim -- along with a promise that after today, you'll be hearing from some other people!

This Maxim is really like four different Maxims rolled into one, isn't it? Simple, but difficult.


Wednesday, April 2, 2008

24. Don’t complain, grumble, murmur or whine.

Good afternoon, ladies -- here I am again.

What to say about this Maxim? It's pretty straightforward. Also, pretty difficult.

How do you remind yourself not to do these horribly tempting things?

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

23. Flee carnal things at their first appearance.

Good evening, ladies!

It's just me again tonight. The wonderful (and scary) thing about this maxim is the exhortation to flee -- it's not just "stay away from carnal things," or "don't give in to carnal things," but "FLEE carnal things."

Fr. Hopko clarifies this in his commentary by saying "sexual things." Sexual temptation is probably one of the most powerful and frightening forces of Satan; its explosive, impulsive nature is one of the reasons it is so carefully restricted to a marriage relationship.

The image I have is of Joseph, leaving his coat in the hands of Potiphar's wife in his haste to get away from her. I don't think this was because he was disgusted by her; on the contrary, I think he was probably tempted to some degree, and rather than try to reason it out, he just fled the scene.

Once again, the emphasis here seems to be on our inability to control our passions and / or the circumstances of our lives. We can't hope to resist temptations this powerful. The moment we catch a glimpse of them, we need to turn and run the other way.

Monday, March 31, 2008

22. Flee imagination, fantasy, analysis.

Hi, ladies. We have no poster today, and this weekend was pretty exhausting, so I'm going to leave this post wide open. I will share that this has been one of the most puzzling of the maxims for me. What do you think it means?

Sunday, March 30, 2008

21. Speak simply, clearly, firmly, directly.

Good evening, ladies. Here is Carolyn, with some wonderful advice:

“But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and your ‘No’ be ‘No’. For whatever is more than this is from the evil one.” Matthew 5:37

“Set a watch O Lord before my mouth; keep the door of my lips.” Psalm 140:3

Excerpt from Letters to a Beginner from Abbess Thaisia of Leushino

Letter 9: On idle talk and gossip.

Deeply rooted in people is the love of idle talk, i.e., empty, unnecessary conversations, and it has become a beloved pastime among them. It seems we don’t know and don’t believe that idle talk is a sin, and a serious sin, which gives birth to a multitude of other sins: quarrels, conflicts, gossip, slander, condemnation, calumny and the like. Indeed, all the various confusions which fill the human life to overflowing, all the disturbances of the inner quiet of the soul, have as their source this same idle talk, which has crept into all of everyday life, as though it were its indispensable property and requirement. If any sin or any passion knows how to clothe itself in an attractive form, it is precisely—idle talk.

It begins under the pretext of conversing, of discussing some business, but then we proceed imperceptibly to an altogether unnecessary, empty and sinful conversation. Like a deeply rooted infection, this sickness does not easily submit to healing. It has penetrated all layers of social and private life; It is active in people of every age and gender, every class and social position, and has not even spared monasteries.

In our words, which we regard so carelessly, so thoughtlessly, will be either your justification or condemnation, as our Lord Jesus Christ Himself says: “I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the Day of Judgment. By thy words thou shall be justified, and by thy words thou shall be condemned.” (Matthew 12:36-7) If even one idle word will be subject to accounting in the day of judgment, then to what condemnation and punishment will we be subject, who talk idly continually and constantly, restrained neither by place nor time, nor by the presence of outsiders, who perhaps even against their will, we make participants in our empty conversations, and in such a manner draw them into sin? So by drawing them into sin we are subject to a double condemnation- both of idle talk and for being a cause of temptation, for woe, it is said, to that man by whom the offense cometh. (Matthew 18:7)

I think the world would be a much calmer place if this maxim was practiced by more people. Learning how to talk takes practice like everything else, if you want to get good at it. I work with someone that talks so much that I don’t have to talk, except to interrupt him and give him something to do. Then I hope that it will take a long time so that I get a little quiet. Otherwise I spend a lot of time by myself, so I don’t get a lot of practice. So, Coffee Hour would be quite a challenge for me, to know and stop before I “proceed imperceptibly to an altogether unnecessary, empty and sinful conversation." I find that when I talk too much, I am saying things that really don’t need to be said. Just because I can say it, doesn’t mean someone else really has to hear it.

The Forty Maxims

  • 1. Be always with Christ and trust God in everything.
  • 2. Pray, fast and do acts of mercy.
  • 3. Read the Scriptures regularly.
  • 4. Read good books, a little at a time.
  • 5. Practice silence, inner and outer.
  • 6. Cultivate communion with the saints.
  • 7. Be an ordinary person, one of the human race.
  • 8. Live a day, even a part of a day, at a time.
  • 9. Be honest, first of all with yourself.
  • 10. Be faithful in little things.
  • 11. Do your work, then forget it.
  • 12. Do the most difficult and painful things first.
  • 13. Face reality.
  • 14. Be grateful.
  • 15. Be cheerful.
  • 16. Be simple, hidden, quiet and small.
  • 17. Never bring unnecessary attention to yourself.
  • 18. Listen when people talk to you.
  • 19. Be awake and attentive, fully present where you are.
  • 20. Think and talk about things no more than necessary.
  • 21. Speak simply, clearly, firmly, directly.
  • 22. Flee imagination, fantasy, analysis.
  • 23. Flee carnal things at their first appearance.
  • 24. Don’t complain, grumble, murmur or whine.
  • 25. Don’t seek or expect pity or praise.
  • 26. Don’t compare yourself with anyone.
  • 27. Don’t judge anyone for anything.
  • 28. Don’t try to convince anyone of anything.
  • 29. Don’t defend or justify yourself.
  • 30. Be defined and bound by God, not people.
  • 31. Accept criticism gracefully and test it carefully.
  • 32. Give advice only when asked or when it is your duty.
  • 33. Be strict with yourself.
  • 34. Be merciful with yourself and others.
  • 35. Do nothing for people that they can do for themselves.
  • 36. Have a healthy, wholesome hobby.
  • 37. Have no expectations except to be fiercely tempted to your last breath.
  • 38. Endure the trial of yourself and your faults serenely, under God’s mercy.
  • 39. When you fall, get up immediately and start over.
  • 40. Get help when you need it, without fear or shame.