09 August 2009

Fr Thornton on Judging


I don’t get many readers over the weekend, and consequently I’ve begun to feel like some of my more elabourately wrought posts are a bit wasted of a Saturday or Sunday. That feeling, coupled with the fact that this has been one of the busiest Sundays of recent memory, preceded by a Saturday that didn’t allow enough time to prepare a post ahead of time, has conspired to produce this: a simple reposting of something I found interesting and spiritually beneficial on another website. From Fr James Thornton, ‘Who Art Thou That Judgest?: Sermon on the Epistle of St Paul to the Romans (13:11-14:4), Forgiveness Sunday (Cheesefare Sunday)’ (here; from Quickened with Christ: Sermons on the Sunday Epistle Readings of the Orthodox Year [Etna, CA: Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies, 2004], pp. 51-56):

We are repeatedly warned as Christians not to judge other men and women. Does this require that we completely abandon our critical faculties when it comes to our dealings with other people? If we should know of a man who is a notorious embezzler, do we do right in judging him unfit to be the custodian of the public treasury? If we should encounter a man whom we know to be a psychopathic murderer, do we properly judge it unwise to invite him over to dinner? The answer to both questions, obviously, is yes.

Let us take some less extreme and more likely examples. If we learn that a particular friend or companion exerts an unhealthy influence on us as Christians, or if we believe that a friend or companion of our children may lead those children astray, may we make the appropriate judgment in those cases and terminate such associations? Again, the answer is yes. Of course we may do that. We would be held accountable by Christ for not making these kinds of judgments.

What we are forbidden as Christians to do is to judge another person's ultimate state before God, or to employ our critical faculties to enhance, in our own minds, our own rank or station or footing, in what we fancy are the eyes of God, at the expense of another human being. We are forbidden, in other words, to regard ourselves as ‘holy’ by comparison with someone we regard as ‘sinful’.

1 comment:

David.R said...

Metropolitan Jonah of the OCA defines 'judging'as "objectifying our brother according to his sin''.
And what does this mean? It means reducing our brother to, and identifying our brother by and only by his sin. It means considering our brother to be his sin and no longer an immortal soul that encompasses much more than just his sin.By judging we place ourselves over our brother usurping the place of God and forget the gospel command to love our neighbour.
Now I David propose that this objectification of our brother happens not only when we judge him but also when we sin against our fellow human being in any other way. Murderers, for example must dehumanize their victims before the brutal act is done. Think about the Holocaust. The Jews were undressed, branded as cattle and carried in trains designed to carry animals, taken to ovens in concentration camps and then slaughtered by the Nazis.
A person betraying a spouse by adultery objectifies both the spouse and the other person with whom he or she commits adultery. The spouse is often reduced to an object unfit to satisfy the adulterer's 'needs'. And the consort is in reality nothing more than a body whose function is to satisfy those same 'needs'
This objectfication process goes on weather we are aware or not, in just about any sin against our neighbour. Pride, egotism and selfishness is at the heart of it.
Concerning those situations described by Father Thornton I would like to add a note of warning. Clearly, some situations we face in life require our assessment. But we must remember that even then our brother is a soul that could be corrected, that he is much more than his sin and that if he repents and we continue holding his sin against him, we sin while he will be vindicated by God. The fathers teach that when we judge our brother we are in grave danger of being delivered by God over to the sin we are judging.
Discernment is not guile. It is neither, cunning, malice or cleverness. Discernment is not judging present experiences in the light of past ones.All of these things I mention are sin. Discernment is a gift of the Holy Spirit given only to those in a very high level of purification of their souls.Discernment is described in step 26th of the Ladder of Divine Ascent by John Climacus.
Let us learn humility and occupy ourselves with our own souls. And remember , in the words of St Silouan and elder Sophrony that 'our brother is our life'