Sin: a hard lesson from experience

My frustration with sin (my own and of those around me) is rooted in my PERFECT awareness that sin has nothing to do with me, with the real me. Not that I know who or how the real me looks like – that is something I shall discover, through God’s grace, only standing face to Face with Him at the Last Judgement – but I have a perfect, unshakeable intuition that I shall not find this true self in sin.

Nistor Coita - fragment
Nistor Coita – fragment

I experience sin like abandonment, like turning away from myself. Sin is suspended time, a manner of suspended living, a bubble of non-being, non-involvement, not-participation into anything: God, myself, the world around. Like closing one’s eyes during a car crash and wanting to believe (yet never fully believing) that the whole world is suspended with me in this bubble of silence.

Because sin is silence. too. Sin is when I stop relating to God and I become silent. I look at Him and I have no more words to use. I look at Him and I then I look away, because I can no longer find myself in His Face. This silence, this turning away from God, this spiritual suicide has nothing to do with me. Or with you. Or with anyone else, any being created by God.

Sin is never creative. Sin suffocates, that’s all it does. Temptations are never creative, never original, never personal, because their source is not the Personal and Creative God. Temptations are always repetitive, boring and common to all of us. Only the fight against them shapes us, only the fight against sin (not sin itself) is creative, deeply related to who I truly am, and has the power to help me grow into this real self.

We are never original in the ways in which we sin. My father confessor told me once that there are only a few basic sins, but infinite ways in which to fight against them – one unique, personal fight for each unique, personal being. These ways, this fight is what makes us who we shall ultimately become, who we’ve always been in God’s eyes.

I am not my sin. It is my fight against sin that makes me who I am.

Pray for me and forgive me. I pray for you.

12 responses

  • Fr Seraphim, this is a very deep, thought-provoking post, and I will have to read it several more times before it all sinks in.

    But my first thought is that you describe sin the way so many people describe depression. It is disconnection, and just wanting to close one’s eyes to escape the reality of our existence. It is accurate especially when you speak about the silence, and of turning away from God because one can no longer find oneself in His face.

    I will read this again, and pray about it. What do you think, Fr. Seraphim. Fr James Bernstein gave a homily just this morning about the eight major sins (vanity and pride were split into two). Depression was one of them. And I guess that i have such a hard time seeing it in willful terms (I work with homeless, runaway, and foster youth, and I see young people facing depression all the time).

    But I suppose that’s your point, right? (Please forgive me for working this out for myself in the comment section.) Depression is an enemy of the true self.

    I guess what I’m trying to work out is that if depression is also a physical illness, an ailment of the brain in that it cannot produce enough of the right chemicals to allow us to try and to feel and to want to feel, how is it also a sin?

    Forgive me, Fr. Seraphim. I am not trying to challenge you. I am asking for dialogue that I may understand.

    Your servant in Christ,
    Tanya

    • Dear Tanya, you are right, of course. I know (again, from personal experience) that depression is of many kinds – there is a type of depression that has a spiritual source, and there is another which is an illness (and should be dealt with as such). I’m also remembered of St Paul’s distinction between the sadness that saves (repentance, basically), and the sadness that can lose one’s soul (spiritual depression). But you are right, I do see a direct connection between sin and depression – in fact, I am more concerned (and I’m talking about myself, I’m not trying to come up with generally valid truths) with the depression aspect of my spiritual life, than I am with my actual sins. I know sins are already ‘cleaned’ by Christ, through His sacrifice. Depression, though, is my part in this whole story – and it’s a bad part to play…

      • Dear Fr. Seraphim,

        Yes, I think you’ve hit it. There is a spiritual depression that I’ve experienced as well, where, in the face of my many sins, I turn away from God in my shame, instead of toward God in my spiritual need. It was this depression that I think caused me to run away from my first parish (quite literally – I ran away from “home” and moved 350 miles away, less than a year after my chrismation – Lord, have mercy!). God’s love was so awesome and terrifying that I, in my sickness and need, ran away. Is that what you mean by spiritual depression? It still happens, now and then. I miss Great Vespers or shy away from being with my Church family because the love is so profound, and I don’t feel like I deserve it. Is this the sin of despair?

        How do we crawl out of that depression, though? How do we crawl back to God when this happens? Is it through the friendships that Lukia mentioned?

        Thank you for this, Fr. Seraphim. Despair is my part to play as well… Please pray for me.

        Your servant in Christ,
        Tanya

  • “…I can no longer find myself in His face” Yes, I loose a sense of being a person. I slip into being an object, a thing, not relational, and I loose that I am desired by God, longed for by God. I often need the face of a good friend to help me re-discover myself in His face. I think true friendship in Christ is a deeply creative endeavor.

    • I agree, dear Lukia. I remember reading somewhere that the ancient Church used to have a Service of friendship, a sort of service through which two people took their friendship in front of God, so He may bless it – I very much liked that… I actually seem to remember (but perhaps my memory is only making this up now, because I want to remember this) that I’ve seen parts of this service somewhere. I was in my monastery in Moldavia at the time, it’s all in my notes from those years.

      • Lukia and Fr. Seraphim,

        I have heard of this service as well, and what an exquisitely beautiful service it must be. to reflect the beauty of a deeply spiritual friendship. Lukia, indeed, friends like this are blessings from God, I think, to remind us that He is there. Sometimes we need the face of a friend to remind us of Who really loves us.

  • Father, your description of sin as uncreative and repetitive makes a lot of sense to me, especially in the struggles I have with a few persistent sins (they really can get rather boring when the same sins come daily).

    I was amaimsed strait after my baptism when I encountered my real self for the first time, I am still taken by surprise by myself after a particularly profound confession. Those moments when real life crashes in to the struggle of life here and reminds me of Eternity, these small foretastes keep me going even when the struggles get really hard. I trust that by the prayers of my Spiritual father I will see the Face of my beloved Lord, for I know that I will never make it on my own, for we are only saved together in the church.

    You are ever in my prayers father, please pray for me.

    • Dear Phoebe, forgive me for not answering sooner – this constant traveling brings chaos in my life!
      You are right, we’ll never make it on our own, we’ll only be saved together, as a Church. I remember reading somewhere that in hell everyone lives in darkness, without ever seeing each other’s faces, and they all scream ‘me, me, look at me!’, while in Heaven, the saints rejoice precisely in seeing each other’s faces and in reinforcing the presence and the wonder of your neighbour, by always saying ‘you, you…’

  • Lukia, Fr. Seraphim, and Tanya,

    In Celtic tradition there is an essential integration of Face-to-Face with God and face-to-face with another human being(s). The face-to-face is heart-to-heart or “joined at the heart.” It is called “Anam Cara” or “heart friend.” This/these are the persons who, by God’s grace, we can “rediscover myself in His face.” The face of the sister(s)/brother(s) is, by grace, the face of God.

    • I knew that, thanks you so much for reminding me! The only mention I’d make is that their understanding of the ‘heart friend’ seems closer to what we call today a spiritual father, rather than a friend – which is extremely beautiful, too, but in a slightly different way.

  • Okay so since no one else is asking… What or who is Nistor Coita and what relevance does the “fragment” you included in this post have to do with the theme of the post?

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