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In today's constant moral decline, many people are running to traditional sources of morality, the Orthodox Church being one of them. Those who come to Orthodoxy also tend towards a more Stoic philosophy, which they find in the Church. Our society has increasingly embraced an attitude of irresponsibility, entitlement and blaming others rather than looking inwardly to possibly find the cause of their sorrows or errors. The Orthodox Church teaches personal responsibility and accountability. For many, this alone is extremely attractive, even at the expense of learning the teachings of the Church.

We Orthodox believe and accept that there are great problems in the world, and those problems are due to no one else but ourselves. The world is sick, and it needs Christ, it needs the Church. Until people change on the inside, nothing on the outside will get any better.

So I think it is somewhat providential that given one of the current conflicts we are seeing unfold in the news, today's post is regarding the blaming of ourselves, and comes from one of the Church's spiritual giants, hailing from a land currently in severe, ugly conflict, with nearly everyone in the world having an opinion. Not unironically, no one is blaming themselves.

One thing I'd like to ask us to meditate upon while reading this treatise is: "Who said I have to be offended?" All I see around me these days, both at my secular job and at the parish are people looking to be offended/upset. They scan every word, every gesture, every lack, every addition in order to see something worth getting upset and causing drama over. They are minutely concerned about everybody and everything in order to feel justified about being mad or upset, but never once do they try to see that maybe their reaction is the problem. May God grant us humility and love. A pdf file of this can be found under Our Parish/Library


"That a Person Should Blame Himself"


St. Dorotheos of Gaza

Brethren, how is it that one sometimes hears an offending remark and lets it pass, without being disturbed, almost as if he had never heard it, while at other times one is immediately disturbed? What is the reason for this difference? Is there only one reason or many? I see that there are many causes, but there is one, is at the generator, so to speak, of all of the other causes. I shall explain. First, it happens that when someone is praying or is meditating and, we could say, has a good inner disposition, he bears with his brother and is undisturbed. Again, it may happen that a person has a certain emotional sympathy for somebody and for that reason, bears anything that person does to him without distress. Finally, there is also the person that degrades or scorns the person who wants to upset him. He does not treat him as a human being, because he considers everything that comes from him to be inferior and does not regard anything said or done by him.

I will tell you something about this that will amaze you. A certain brother was living in the monastery before I left it. I never saw him disturbed or troubled by anybody, despite the fact that I saw many brothers insulting him and provoking him. This young monk put up with what each one of them did to him as if nobody bothered him at all. I always admired his excessive forbearance and I wanted to learn how he obtained this great virtue. Thus, on one occasion, I took him aside, made a deep bow to him and asked him to tell me what he always had in his heart when he was insulted or when suffering any other hardship from somebody, as he displayed such great forbearance. He then answered me in a natural and unaffected way, "I try not to get bogged down. I tolerate everything like young dogs tolerate men's beatings". When I heard this, I cast my eyes down and I said to myself, "this brother has found the way". After crossing myself, I left praying that God would protect me and the brother.

It happens, as I said, that someone may not be disturbed out of disdain. This is self evident destruction. If someone is disturbed by a brother who upsets him, this happens either because he is not in a good condition at that time, or because he abhors the person. There are evidently many other causes that we have mentioned in different ways. However, the root cause of every disturbance, if we examine it carefully, is from not blaming ourselves. Consequently, we are crushed and we never find rest.

It is no wonder when we hear all the saints say that there is no other way but this. We can see that no one ever followed another way and found rest. We attempt to find rest and keep to the right path without ever allowing our own self-reproach. Indeed, even if a person has a wealth of good conduct yet does not keep to this path, he will never stop causing upset and being upset himself and thus he will lose all his hard work. As Abba Poemen said, "What great comfort and joy will the person who blames himself not have?" Whatever happens to him, whether it be damage, or dishonor or any other affliction he deems himself worthy of it and is never troubled. Is there anything more free of care than this?

St. Poemen the Great "The Abbot of Love"

However, someone may say, "If my brother upsets me and, having examined myself, I find I have given him no cause, how can I accuse myself?" Truly, if a person searches himself with fear of God, he will find that he has always given cause either through deed, word or gesture. However, if he sees that in that particular case he has given no cause, as he says, then perhaps he has offended his brother at some other time in the same way or another, or else he may have upset another brother. He may suffer for this reason or often because of some other sin. Therefore, as I said, if a person searches himself in the fear of God and diligently examines his own conscience, he will certainly find that he is guilty.

It often happens that someone sees himself sitting peacefully and quietly, but when his brother says a word that upsets him, he is troubled. Thus, he thinks that he is justly upset with him, saying that, "If he hadn't come, and spoken to me and troubled me, I wouldn't have sinned". But this is folly and absurdity. Did the person that spoke to him give him that passion? He simply showed him the passion that existed within him, so that, if he wanted to, he could repent of it. He is like fine bread that shines on the outside, but when one breaks it, one sees its moldiness. In just the same way, he was sitting, as he thought, in peace but he had this passion inside him that he was unaware of. His brother said one single word and revealed the filth hidden inside him. Therefore, if he wants to receive mercy, he must repent, purify himself, progress and he must understand that he ought to thank his brother for being the cause of that great spiritual benefit.

Temptations will not always burden him in the same way, but the more he progresses the lighter he will find them. For, to the extent that the soul advances, it becomes stronger and powerful enough to withstand anything. Just as when you load a strong animal with heavy goods it carries the load with comfort and even if it stumbles and falls down, it immediately gets up almost without feeling that it fell. Whereas, a weak animal finds even a very light load oppressive and if it happens to fall, it needs great help to get up again. It is the same with the soul. The soul, as far as it sins, is distressed by it. Sin causes suffering and destroys the person that commits it. Thus, if anything happens to him, it wears him out. However, if a person advances all those things which oppressed him, it becomes progressively easier to bear. Therefore, it does us good, and brings much progress and comfort, when we blame no one else, but ourselves, for what happens to us. More than that, it helps us to understand that nothing happens to us which is not under the providence of God.

What if someone says, "How can I not be upset if I need something and I do not get it? You see, I truly need this". Even then, it is not justifiable to accuse somebody or be agitated with someone. Indeed, if he truly needs something, as he says and does not get it, he should say that, "Christ knows better than I do if I should be satisfied. He himself takes the place of that object or food for me". The sons of Israel ate manna in the desert* or forty years. This manna was of only one kind, but it became what each one needed. If a person needed something savory, it became savory. If another needed something sweet it became sweet. In short, it became what was most suited to his constitution of each. Therefore, if a person needs an egg and does not receive it, but just a vegetable, he must tell himself, "If it was for my good, God certainly would have given it to me. This vegetable can be as good for me as an egg". I am certain that in God's eyes this is a form of witness. Truly, if someone is really worthy of rest, God will make even the Saracens show mercy on him according to his need.

However, if he is not worthy, or it is not in his interest, he may create a new heaven and a new earth, but will not find comfort. Sometimes, of course, a person finds he has more than he needs, other times less. God, being merciful, grants to each one according to his need. Sometimes he gives one person more than he needs, showing him the excess of his love for Man towards him and teaching him to give thanks. When He does not grant a person his needs, he compensates for that through his word and teaches him patience. So, in every case, we must turn our attention towards God. If someone is good to us we should turn our attention to Him. The same if we are maltreated. We must thank Him for everything that happens to us, always accusing ourselves and saying, as the Fathers said, “If anything good happens it is God's providence, if anything bad happens, it is because of our sins.”

In truth, whatever we may suffer, we suffer it because of our sins. If the saints suffered, they suffered for God's name or to demonstrate their virtue for the benefit of many or to gain greater reward from God. As for us wretches, how can we say this? We sin like this daily and in seeking to satisfy our passion, we abandoned the right path, which the Fathers spoke about, that of self-accusation. Each one of us follows the wrong path, tries on every occasion to put the case against his brother and throw the burden of responsibility upon him. Each one of us is negligent and keeps nothing, but demands that our neighbor keeps the commandments.

Two brothers once approached me, upset with each other. The elder brother said about the younger that, "I tell him to do something, but he gets upset and so do I, thinking that if he had faith and love towards me, he should accept whatever I tell him with assurance". The younger brother said to me, “Forgive me, father, I have the feeling that he doesn't speak to me with fear of God, but because he wants to order me about. I think that this is why my heart doesn't have the assurance of which the Fathers speak”. Bear in mind how they both blamed each other and neither of them accused himself. Another two brothers were also upset with each other, even after making a bow to each other. One of them said that the other "...didn't make the bow with his whole heart and this is why he did not have the assurance, as the Fathers say". The other said that, "Because he was not completely disposed with love towards me before I showed him my repentance, I don't have assurance, too”. Do you see the shame here, my brother? Do you see what a perversion of thought this is? God knows how much it amazes me that we use the sayings of the Fathers to suit our own evil will and the destruction of our souls. Each one of them should have blamed himself. One should have said, "I did not make the bow towards my brother with all my heart and this is why God has not assured him". The other should have said, “I myself was not perfectly disposed in love towards my brother, before he showed his repentance to me and this is why God has not assured him". The other two I mentioned earlier should have acted in the same way. The first brother ought to have said, "I speak with boldness and for that reason, God does not assure my brother". The other should also have thought that, "My brother commands with humility and love but I am disobedient and do not have the fear of God”. None of them found the way and condemned himself but each one of them blamed his neighbor.

This is why we make no progress, why we get no benefit from anything. We spend our whole time rotting from thoughts. Because everyone justifies himself. Each one leaves himself alone, as said before, and demands the commandments from his neighbor. This is why we are not conscientious in doing good, because if we have been just a little illumined, we immediately demand the same of our brother. We blame him and say that, "He should do that" or "Why didn't he do it like that?" Why do we not demand the keeping of the commandments from ourselves and condemn ourselves as transgressors?

Where is the elder who when asked, "what new thing did you find in this way of life father?" he replied saying, "blaming myself.” The questioner praised this. He said to him, "There is no other way than this". In the same way, Abba Poemen said, with a deep groan, "All the virtues have entered this house except one and without this Man can stand only with great effort". They asked him what this was and he said that, "Man must blame himself.” Saint Antony also said, "this is the great work of Man, to blame himself before God and to be ready to face temptation up to his last breath". Everywhere we find the Fathers in keeping this, (way of thought) and by referring everything to God, even in the smallest detail they were comforted.

St. Anthony the Great, Fighting Demons in His Cave

Such was that holy elder who was sick and his brother put linseed oil in his food, instead of honey. It is most detrimental. The elder, however, said nothing. He silently ate the first plate and a second as required. Not only did he not blame his brother, saying that he disdained him. Not only did he not do such a thing, but did not even upset him by saying something. When the brother realized what he had done, he was upset, saying,' I’ve murdered you, Abba, and you placed the sin on me, by keeping silent.” With what great gentleness he replied saying, "Do not be upset, my child, if God wanted me to eat honey, you would have put honey in the food". So, he immediately referred the matter to God. "What has God to do with it, good elder? This was a mistake of the brother and you say, “if God wanted?" What does this mean?" He said, "Yes, if God wanted me to eat honey, my brother would have put honey on". All this happened when the elder was so sick he could not eat anything for many days and yet he was not upset with his brother, but referred it to God and was at rest. The elder spoke rightly, as he knew very well that if God wanted him to have honey, he could transform the stinking oil into honey.

However, we consider our neighbor responsible for everything, accusing him of despising us and acting against his conscience. If we hear a word, we immediately pervert it saying, "If he did not want to hurt me, he would not have said that. Where is the saint who said about Shimei "Let him curse, because the Lord has said to him, 'Curse David" (2 Sam. 16:10). God told a murderer to curse the prophet. How did God say that?

Yet, the prophet, as one with knowledge and aware that nothing else draws God's mercy to the soul, other than temptations, and especially in time of affliction and trouble, said, “Let him curse David because the Lord has said unto him". Why so? "Perhaps God will see my humiliation and will render me good for his curse". See the wisdom with which the prophet acted. This is why he did not agree with those who wanted to punish the curser. He said, "What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah? So, let him curse because the Lord has said to him, 'Curse David" (2 Sam 16:10).

However, we do not allow ourselves to say about our brother that "The Lord told him to say it”. When we hear something, we immediately react like a dog who, when somebody throws it a stone, forgets the person who threw it and runs after the stone to bite it. That is how we react. We abandon God who permits us opportunities to purify ourselves from our sins and we run to our neighbor saying, “Why did you speak to me like that? Why did you do this to me?" Whereas we could get great benefit from all this, we do the opposite, that is, plot against ourselves, being unaware that everything happens to us for our good, through the providence of God.

Let God grant us understanding through the prayers of the saints.

To Him belongs the glory forever. Amen.

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