Saturday, March 28, 2009

27. Don’t judge anyone for anything.

From Shamessy (Deaconessa) Ina in Baltimore:

Today marks the 28th day of March and the 28th year of blessed marriage to my dear deacon. For those who have been blessed to seek salvation within the martyrdom of holy matrimony, you will likely see why God’s providential lot fell to me today to do the assigned reflection since it is on ‘Judgment.’ For marriage is a God-inspired setting for providing opportunities to work on this stubborn, self-willed passion. Judgment is all about ‘Me’ being ‘Judge’. Judge of most anything and everything. And who knows better than ‘Me’ how things should be done in ‘My’ world. Pity those who must live so closely with ‘Me’. How many times in these last 28 years have I started a sentence to my husband with an annoyed or outraged tone and the words, “Why did you . . . ?” Fill in the blank with any irritating behavior or failure on his part to act.

Just the other day when my beloved was exhausted from his non-stop travel schedule for work, and was packing for yet another trip, I, (self-crowned queen of men’s fashion) asked him, “Why are you wearing that shirt?!” He retorted that he liked the shirt and it was comfortable. Only when it was too late did I think about how my judgment of his clothing choice served to kick him when he was down. I felt ashamed when I happened to look in the closet some time after he left and saw that the ‘offending shirt’ had been unpacked. Who had died and made me the judge . . . ? I was the ‘worm’ from Proverbs 12:4: “As a worm in a tree, so an evildoing wife destroys her husband.” It is slow and almost imperceptible but those tiny judgments eat away most assuredly. I have tears as I type this as I think of all the times such a simple verbal exchange has not only eaten away at my beloved but has aided in my own destruction by strengthening my passions. Dorotheos of Gaza says “Because we become careless about our own faults . . . we lose the power to correct ourselves and we are always at work on our neighbor.”

If I enter a room and wonder why they painted it that color . . . I judge the person who painted it. If I think “doesn’t that lady see that her skirt does not fit her anymore?” I judge her. If I am annoyed with how slow my checker is in the grocery store, I judge him. When I think, ‘I like the way we sing that song at my church better,’ I judge again. I, who am imperfect in a thousand ways, find myself judging every move made by the rest of the world. With every judgment I exalt myself and further darken the clouds of passion which are blocking my communion with my Most Beloved Lover of Mankind. If I am to have any hope of that blessed union I must actively seek God’s help in breaking the habit of judging in all the small ways, as well as the large. May we become so dispassionate that we do not even notice those things that once seemed to annoy. May we learn to cut off those judgmental thoughts when they start and not chew on them like such delicious cud. May we become blind to our neighbors faults, just like the holy elder who was blind to the woman’s nakedness.

Friday, March 27, 2009

26. Don’t compare yourself with anyone.

From Kim in Baltimore:

I tend to be a very private person and rarely open myself up to others. Even something like participating in this blog is a step out for me. Then, to top it off, I get this maxim! I had to do a lot of thinking and praying to figure out where to go with this. I’m sure it was providential!

My first thoughts involved how we compare ourselves in a prideful way – like the publican and the Pharisee. I think many of us are able to relate to this story in one way or another. Whenever we judge others we are saying we are better than they are. Unfortunately, I am all too good at making these comparisons.

I also compare myself to others in a different way, though. I feel the need to fit into what is acceptable, what is considered appropriate, what is viewed as normal. I don’t want to be caught being different or not meeting the expectations of others. I don’t want to stand out from the crowd.

This can be a real problem as a Christian. The definition of “normal” or “acceptable” is decided by a society which doesn’t necessarily have the same values and beliefs that Orthodox Christians have. Things such as praying before a meal or crossing yourself in public make you stand out. In this day and age, these are not “normal”. Everyday is a struggle to realize that I do not have to fit into society’s mold. Instead, I need to keep my eyes on God and live the life that would be pleasing to Him rather than to others. I need to truly make my prayer, “Lord have mercy on me a sinner” and look to God alone as my measuring stick.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

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

From Missy in DC:

I was intrigued by this maxim when Emily sent it to me. I wondered how often I start out with good intentions to do something, only to end up seeking approval or worse, wanting someone to feel sorry for me because I feel I have been so put upon. Why is that? In our instant gratification culture we wonder what the “polls” say about us. We fish for compliments. We tell our tale of woe to any and all who will listen. But even as we hear what we are hoping for, a compliment or a “poor you”, it never satisfies.

Consider the poor widow in the Gospels of Luke and Mark. When she makes her offering, Jesus knows she is giving all; out of her poverty. Most importantly, she made her offering without expecting pity or praise. We need to remember “Your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly” (Matthew 6:4) God sees all, knows our hearts and through His love we realize that nothing we do is in vain, even when we feel slighted or put upon.

The other side of this of course is that we should express our gratitude (praise) and compassion (pity) openly to those around us whenever possible. Expressing gratitude and compassion for others, especially those who are not expecting it, is satisfying. We have an opportunity to express something that may comfort or uplift someone exactly when they needed to hear it, without asking.

So maybe what we really need to seek is those opportunities to give rather than receive gratitude (praise) or compassion (pity). And when we find ourselves looking for those moments, better we should create them for someone else, in effect giving “out of our poverty” and being blessed in the process.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

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

A blessed feast to all! This comes from Christine in Alaska:

When I read which Maxim was mine, I chuckled. Irony, it seems, always wins. I am a huge whiner. I usually like to label my complaining nicely. I’m “venting” or “just airing some problems.” But it’s whining and complaining, all the same. So I thought on this for a few days. What does a whiner -— of whom I am first -— have to say about complaining, grumbling, or murmuring?

I read somewhere that if all the people in the entire world put their problems in a huge pile, we would all take back our original ones. Boy, isn’t that the case! My problems, as a middle-class American, are pretty minor. In the grand scheme of life in general, they really aren’t even a blip on the radar. So why do I insist on expounding on them? It seems that every time I complain about something, that tiny incident -— whatever it may be -— is magnified. And if I complain about it to five people (as I usually do) then it is magnified five times. All of a sudden, I have made a mountain out of that little molehill.

In further retrospection, I realized something. My complaints are really blessings. Take today, for example. My strong-willed daughter is in the midst of her terrible twos. I could grumble about that until the cows come home, and still have breath left over. But instead, I am going to choose to see the many gifts in this situation. Thank you God, for the blessing of her throwing a fit on the floor. That means that we have a floor, and a roof over it. Instead of calling my husband at work to complain about her sassing, I will instead thank God that I have a husband to call. Instead of grumbling that she swiped too many cookies when I wasn’t looking, I will be grateful that she is fed. And when I want to murmur over my pile of dirty laundry, I will instead offer a prayer of thanksgiving for the beautiful little girl who created it.

Truly, I believe this is one of the struggles of the Christian life: to see the grace and blessings of God in all things, however troublesome or mundane. And when I sit and think about it, the even more extraordinary truth is that I am alive and able to complain. I am loved and cared for by God “who so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son.” As we draw nearer and nearer to Golgotha, where that Only-Begotten Son died for me and my sins, my heart trembles that I have the audacity to complain when such a price was paid for me! Thank God for forgiveness. Thank God for the Cross. Thank God for the Resurrection!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

23. Flee carnal things at their first appearance.

From Khouria Frederica in Baltimore:

If "carnal" means "inappropriately sexual," then this maxim may well have more significance for men than it does for women. Although sexual temptation can be strong for women, if it's truly tempting is is likely to be mixed with *emotional* elements too, such as flattery, romance, and excitement. I remember a New Yorker cartoon that showed a man on a street corner leaning in a car window to talk to the woman driving. He was saying, "Sure, I'll listen to you, baby. I'll listen to you all night long." The caption was "Male Prostitute." So for most women (not St. Mary of Egypt, apparently) a temptation that is empty of anything except the physical / carnal is generally less attractive to women, and might seem unappealing, crude, maybe even repellent.

One thing we can derive from this Maxim is compassion for men, for whom these temptations can seem utterly overwhelming. I remember reading an interview with Dustin Hoffman in which he said that reaching middle age was a relief because the sexual temptations were not so overwhelming as they used to be; he said it used to be like "waking up chained to a maniac." I don't know if women (on average) have *any* temptation that could be described in such terms. People joke about women craving chocolate or new shoes, but it's not like being chained to a maniac. So that would be the first thing to gain from this Maxim -- a respectful sympathy for the guys, and gratitude to God that our temptations lie in other directions.

The element of "flee at first appearance" is beneficial for anyone, with any temptation, though. It is very discouraging to keep falling again and again to the same sin, whatever its nature might be. Resisting it successfully becomes a matter of resisting it *right away*, at the first moment it appears, because a familiar sin gains power instantly, like a tornado. Overall, this Maxim reminds us to be humble and skeptical about our own ability to resist temptation. It is better to reject sin while the temptation is still small than to allow it to blow up like a tornado and sweep us away. As St. Paul said, "Let him who thinks he stands beware lest he fall."

Monday, March 23, 2009

22. Flee imagination, fantasy, analysis.

From Zenaida in Baltimore:

All of these are good in themselves. Imagination can lead to creativity. Fantasy – through story -- can lead to a child’s learning of virtues. Analysis can lead to understanding and insight. Nonetheless, each of these – as with anything that God has given us – can lead us away from Him when we misuse it.

Flee imagination that leads to anxiety, envy, resentment, anger. Flee fantasy that leads to a distorted sense of reality. Flee analysis that goes round-and-round without resolution. All of these take us away from God. They fill our minds, hearts, souls, and spirits with sinfulness, confusion, and perplexity. Instead, pray the Jesus Prayer. Thus you will be given the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and “a thousand souls will be saved around you” – including your own.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

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.