Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries Psychotherapy


"Go ahead - eat. Let the sin burden me..."

by Dionysis Papachristodoulou


Hospital corridor. Waiting. People running here and there, asking the doctors: "Have I got this, that, or something else?  It hurts here; it hurts there..."  Medical terminology.  Agony.  Waiting in a long corridor. The adjacent rooms are empty.  It is not a public hospital, but a luxury clinic.... for the few.  Further down the corridor there is another patient and his visitors: some friends, and a grandmother.  Treats are offered.  It is Friday. A day of fasting.

"Here, grandma..."

"Thank you, no.  I'm fasting."

"Come on grandma, take one."

"Thank you, I don't want any."

"Go ahead, grandma, eat; Let the sin burden me..."

It often happens in a company of people, that someone - with a note of "self-sacrifice" who however does not fast - will tell the other person (who is fasting)  to "eat, and let the sin burden me."  As if fasting is a tax that a companion can pay.

This form of exhortation is indicative of the legalistic perception that we have, when it comes to our relationship with the Church. Crime and punishment...  Law, transgression, guilt, obligation, sentence, atonement, settlement...  A perception that is attributed to the medieval barbarization that dominated in our land, mostly after its liberation in 1821. The Canons of the Church were reduced to barren laws, with a predominant concern that one might transgress them, in which case, punishment would ensue.

The law of the State may simply oppress us, however we tolerate it so that society may function rudimentarily.  But the law of the Church, Her Canons, exist for the sake of healing us.  Whoever implements them, attains therapy for his entire existence; whoever does not manage to, will at least gain therapy for his conscience.   Conscience is rather "elastic". It is stretchable: man can reach the point of committing the worst kind of crime and, by finding an argument, an excuse, his conscience can be dulled. A fountain can spout dirty water, or become entirely useless... "Come on... everyone steals..."   "Thou shalt not steal..."   And the situation is cleared.  That's why a "philanthropical" adjustment to a social reality is a crime.  "If something is not implemented by anyone (or most people), then let's just delete it."   This "realistic" mentality is a crime, because it eliminates every possibility for repentance.  The rules of the Church are indicators showing the straight path, while Her "providence" (oekonomia) allows man to gradually find a balance in his life through a series of ups and downs, drawing strength from within repentance.

Nick Gallis (the Greek basketball champion), as well as Pyrrhos Demas (Olympic weight-lifting champion) and every champion athlete in the world all undergo a rigorous preparation.  If, during an athlete's training session a friend comes along and says to him "Come on, let's go get a drink - let the sin burden me" and the athlete listens to his friend, he will simply ruin his preparation and will be unable to put all his energy into his athletic goal.  What could he possibly expect to gain, from his friend's "self-sacrifice"?  Well, that's the case with fasting also.  It is not a matter of sinning-transgression, but more like a case of losing one's chance to train.  Fasting is a form of training. In the Church, every form of "training" is generally referred to as "ascesis".  If ascesis is interrupted because one easily dismisses his "selfish goal" and follows such exhorting "philanthropists", he will not attain his goal which is therapy: the catharsis-cleansing of passions, the enlightenment of the nous, deification (theosis), and the healing of the entire world. Provided of course that the training itself is not turned into a championship-seeking action. One's ascesis should not be absolutized and focused only on a strict observance of the ascesis itself, by implementing the most rigorous exertion possible.  The mind should also participate in the endeavour.

The spirit of honour is necessary, continuous improvement is imperative, but only if one's final objective is at the epicenter of his ascesis, and not the unilateral perfection of the means used to attain that objective. That was the Pharisees' mistake: they had made the means their objective. It was fasting for the sake of fasting; "the more I fast, the better person I am, the more I am upholding the Law, and God is therefore indebted to me for doing so."  Thus, because of this arrogance, the overall endeavour itself is cancelled. Instead of the means being the cause for Inspiration, it in fact drowns one's existence in a hell of self-vindication.

Athletic teams (football, basketball, etc..) normally undergo an annual training period (apart from their regular weekly training sessions).  They go to an athletic center to specially prepare for the entire year.  The Great Lenten period is something similar to that, for a Christian; he too undergoes a more intense "training", in order to be prepared for the entire year.

"Champion" athletes in the Church are called ascetics. Ascesis naturally exists for every Christian, but there is a difference between a hermit's ascesis and that of an "untrained" Christian.  The former chooses the rugged upward path to the summit, while the latter will walk the smoother path, which will lead him gradually to the summit. However, both strive for the same summit.  The objective is common to everyone: the restoration of the "image" and the attaining of the "likeness".

In an age where economic magnitudes determine the relations between countries (and not only them), the Church offers Her "oekonomia" (providence) - Her concession - for every "untrained" person, but at the same time also safeguards the "akriveia" (precision) of Her canons.  With Her philanthropy, She gives the novice the opportunity to make a start, without concealing what the "track record" is about: the corner Stone, the immovable Foundation, the Godman, the One Who is able to say - and actually mean: "I can make your sin Mine."



Translation:  K.N.

Article published in English on: 15-3-2012.

Last update: 15-3-2012.