Rid yourself of ALL bitterness

poison

Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die. Malachy McCourt

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No podvig [ascetic undertaking], no almsgiving can atone for the refusal to forgive.

Resentment and Forgiveness

Lenten Reflections (I)

by Hieromonk Damascene

1. The Misuse of the Incensive Power

Since we are approaching Forgiveness Sunday, I’ve chosen, with the blessing of His Grace Bishop Longin, to speak on the subject of Anger, Judgment, and Resentment, and on their cure: Forgiveness and Reconciliation. First I will speak about the problem and then I’ll discuss the solution.

Anger, judgment, remembrance of wrongs, grudges, resentment: these are passions with which all of us struggle in one way or another. Why are we prone to them? According to the Holy Fathers of the Church, the power that causes anger was part of man’s original nature, which was created “good” by God (cf. Genesis 1:31). The Fathers say that man’s soul was originally created with three powers: the intellective or “knowing” power, the appetitive or “desiring” power, and the incensive or “fervent” power. Man was supposed to use his intellective power to know God, his appetitive power to yearn for God, and his incensive power to courageously repel temptation—beginning with the temptation of the serpent in the Garden.

Instead of using their incensive power to repel temptation, however, Adam and Eve succumbed to their first temptation: they ate of the forbidden fruit. According to the Holy Fathers, the essence of the serpent’s temptation lies in these words: “Eat of this fruit and you shall be as gods” (cf. Genesis 3:5). St. John Chrysostom says that Adam “expected to become himself a god, and conceived thoughts above his proper dignity.” This is a key point which we’ll keep coming back to.

“No podvig [ascetic undertaking], no almsgiving can atone for the refusal to forgive.”

When the primordial Fall occurred, man’s original nature, created in the image of God, became corrupted. He acquired what the Holy Fathers call a fallen nature. He still had the image of God in him, but the image was tarnished: “buried,” as it were, under the corruption of his nature. Now he had an inclination toward sin, born of his desire to be God without God’s blessing. All of us share that fallen nature; there is a part of each one of us that wants to be God. In popular modern terms, that part of us is called the “ego.”

When man fell, the three powers of his soul became subject to corruption, along with his body, which became subject to death and decay. Now man used his intellective power to puff up with knowledge and be superior to others; now he used his appetitive power to lust after other people, after the things of this world, after sinful pleasures, wealth, and power; and he used his incensive power, not against temptation, but against other people, against things, and sometimes against life and God Himself. The incensive power expressed itself as sinful anger and wrath. The first man born of woman, Cain, got so angry and jealous that he murdered his own brother, Abel.

So, here we are, all members of the family of Adam and Eve, possessing a fallen nature that wants to be God, and a corrupted incensive power that gets angry at the wrong things.

Very clear teachings on anger and the incensive power can be found in the first volume of The Philokalia, in the teachings of St. John Cassian, a Holy Father of the fifth century. According to St. John Cassian, all anger directed at other people—all such wrong use of our incensive power—blinds the soul. He writes: “We must, with God’s help, eradicate the deadly poison of anger from the depths of our souls. So long as the demon of anger dwells in our hearts … we can neither discriminate what is good, nor achieve spiritual knowledge, nor fulfill our good intentions, nor participate in true life…. Nor will we share in divine wisdom even though we are deemed wise by all men, for it is written: Anger lodges in the bosom of fools (Eccles. 7:9). Nor can we discriminate in decisions affecting our salvation even though we are thought by our fellow men to have good sense, for it is written: Anger destroys even men of good sense (Proverbs 15:1). Nor will we be able to keep our lives in righteousness with a watchful heart, for it is written: Man’s anger does not bring about the righteousness of God (James 1:20)….

“If, therefore, you desire to attain perfection and rightly pursue the spiritual way, you should make yourself a stranger to all sinful anger and wrath. Listen to what St. Paul enjoins: Rid yourselves of all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, evil speaking, and all malice (Eph. 4:31). By saying ‘all’ he leaves no excuse for regarding any anger as necessary or reasonable. If you want to correct your brother when he is doing wrong or punish him, you must try to keep yourself calm; otherwise you yourself may catch the sickness you are seeking to cure and you may find that the words of the Gospel now apply to you: Physician, heal yourself (Luke 4:23), or Why do you look at the speck of dust in your brother’s eye, and not notice the beam in your own eye?(Matt. 7:3).

“No matter what provokes it, anger blinds the soul’s eyes, preventing it from seeing the Sun of righteousness…. Whether reasonable or unreasonable, anger obstructs our spiritual vision. Our incensive power can be used in a way that is according to nature only when turned against our own impassioned or self-indulgent thoughts. [2]

Here St. John Cassian is telling us that, when we use our incensive power against temptation—against impassioned or self-indulgent thoughts—we are using this power as it was originally intended to be used, according to our original, virtuous nature, created in the image of God. However, when we use our incensive power against anything else—especially against other people—we are misusing it, according to our fallen nature.

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Καλή Σαρακοστή!

Lent – A Time For Forgiveness 

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The Rite of Forgiveness

After the dismissal at Vespers, the priest stands beside the analogion, or before the ambon, and the faithful come up one by one and venerate the icon, after which each makes a prostration before the priest, saying, “Forgive me, a sinner.” The priest also makes a prostration before each, saying, “God forgives. Forgive me.” The person responds, “God forgives,” and receives a blessing from the priest. Meanwhile the choir sings quietly the irmoi of the Paschal Canon, or else the Paschal Stichera. After receiving the priest’s blessing, the faithful also ask forgiveness of each other.

 

 

 

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