I was asked today…
Abouna, why is it that some people have a deep connection with God for some time and then fall into sin, while they are very aware that they are breaking God’s heart? How does God see these people? I mean maybe before they experienced Him, they didn’t know Him at all and didn’t know what sin can cause; they had their excuse, but after knowing God and being well aware of the sin, what is their excuse in front of God and themselves and how can they re-connect with God once again after committing a sin and feeling a huge distance between them and God?
I think that there are several things to say here…
In the first place, it can be easy to deceive ourselves into thinking that we are close to God, when perhaps we are already far away. We can do this by having only an external and religious framework for our relationship. So we think that because we are doing the things that Christians do, it means that we are Christian ourselves. We can be living and acting entirely in our own strength, and it can seem that we are getting on well in the Christian life, both to ourselves and to others. We can even be servants and clergy in the Church. But we are really like the seed sown on rocky soil. We have no spiritual depth. The feelings we have relied on, or the sense of pride in our devotion, are not the same as the presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
We can see that we have this attitude if our response to sin is to determine that we will try harder. And every time we fall, we insist to ourselves that we just need to try a bit harder and we can be holy. But in the end it should be clear to us that the spiritual life is not a matter of our own effort. It requires always the grace of the indwelling Holy Spirit, because the Fathers teach us that the spiritual man or woman is that person who is filled with the Holy Spirit, and who lives in the divine power of the Holy Spirit.
I also work, striving according to his energy, which energises in me powerfully. Col 1:29
When we have discovered that we have no strength on our own to become spiritual, then we begin to rely on God in humility, and with perseverance and faithfulness, seeking holiness as the expression of our unity with God in the heart by the indwelling Holy Spirit. But we can spend much of our life not realising this, and acting in our own energy and without the divine power, and these means that we are very close to danger, and there is always the possibility of falling away.
And falling away is not a matter of breaking a rule, so that we say to ourselves, I can do better, I shouldn’t have done that! This is still trusting in ourselves and is an acting in pride. We feel miserable because we are sure we can do better and have let ourselves down.
Falling into sin is not the breaking of a rule, it is a choosing of death and darkness, rather than life and light in God. And the beginning of death and darkness in us may be hidden from us by our own sense of being in a right place with God. At every moment of our lives we are given opportunities to grow closer to God, to light and life, or to turn away from God, even in things we consider trivial, so that the darkness and the death of the soul creeps upon us slowly and un-noticed. And then suddenly the soul discovers it is without the divine life, and that the journey away from God into the shadows has been taking place even in the midst of regular attendance at Church services, and even in service in the Church.
Our problem is that we do not take sin seriously enough, and we do not consider it a matter of union with God in the heart. We very often consider it to be a matter of accumulating enough virtuous activities to outweigh our sins, and so we take the whole extent of our life into view and assume that we can always get round to being good to deal with our sins. Or we think that sin makes God angry, and so we try to think of what religious activities we can do to please and placate him. Or we think that sin is bad because it reveals our weakness, and we are sure that we are better and stronger than our sin manifests. Or we think that our sins are not so bad compared to real sinners, and that probably we can get away with them, as long as we go to Church, and serve in some way.
But all of these attitudes lead to death and darkness. When the trials come, we discover that we have no spiritual roots and we fall. Not once, and twice, but even away from faith completely. Even those who seemed very active and enthusiastic.
The Christian life is union with God in the heart by the indwelling Holy Spirit. It is the beginning of our experience of Paradise and the Resurrection already. It requires that we seek union with God above all things, and this union is found by choosing God, choosing life and light, seeking the fulness of the Holy Spirit at all times.
The one who sins, while seeking such a union with God, does not despair or make excuses, but immediately turns to God in repentance, praying – Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. He remains filled with hope, while also repenting towards God, and repentance is not feeling miserable – that is pride – it is changing our hearts and minds and attitudes. The one who is seeking union with God is well aware of his weakness, it is no surprise, and he knows that it is no surprise to God. Every falling into sin is an opportunity for greater and deeper repentance, so that falling into sin is quickly transformed into turning towards and seeking God.
A new way of life is required of such a person. Prayer must become the focus and foundation of every day and every moment. We must be praying from the Agpeya in the morning and evening, and we must seek to pray the Jesus Prayer as much as possible, so that it becomes unceasing. If we are not seeking union with God, with our whole heart and mind and soul, then our falling into sin is unrestrained, except by habit and fear. We may live our lives in relative good conduct and still fall away completely. But the one who strains every day for a closer union with God, in the power of the Holy Spirit, though he may fall often, will rise and repent in the grace of the indwelling Holy Spirit and will increase in holiness and union, even as the one who does not have the Holy Spirit finds even the spiritual foundations he had slowly eroding.
If we have sinned and feel that we are far from God then we need to pray since prayer is the means of communion with God. Prayer from the Agpeya, so that it becomes a habit in the morning and evening, intercessions for others, and the Jesus Prayer as much as is possible. If we really feel that we are far from God then we will do whatever is necessary to come back to him. And what is required is prayer. Unceasing prayer. The hopeful prayer of the repentant man or woman who does not trust in his or her own strength and does not demand anything from God, other than that he will have mercy.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.