February 2008

Fr. Antony PortraitDear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Glory to Jesus Christ!

The world often appears to be filled with darkness, but what is its source?  It is evident that there is much suffering in the world and that evil is alive and well in the land. There are some who rail against the darkness, organize religio/political movements to combat immorality, raise armies and start wars to advance peace through bloodshed and create legislation meant to curb the evil intent of the so-called "godless".  But all of these are vain because they do not recognize the source of the darkness itself.

Those who would order society after their own images of what is good and what is not do not see that the darkness they seek to eradicate exists first in their own hearts.  Were it not there, say the Holy Fathers, they would not see it in others.  "Why do you see the speck in your brother's eye, when there is a log in your own?" Jesus taught.  Another word for this is projection.  We hate what is in us and out of fear and ignorance project it on the world around us. In this way we distort reality.

But "to the pure all things are pure," we read in the Philokalia.

One cannot hope to purify society if one's own heart is corrupt.  One sign of the heart's corruption is anger. St. Maximus the Confessor writes that it is only through love and self-control that the heart can be purified. Anger is the opposite of both love and self-control.  If, as St. John of the Ladder writes, "an angry monk in his cell is like an asp spitting poison on the world," then is it not also true for those of us who live in apartments and houses?  Those who give in to anger, if they persist in it and do not repent of it when it occurs, can become "toxic personalities".  It is a sign of the deepest impurity.  The good news is that when we see such anger rise in us it points the way to repentance, but we must recognize that the evil we hate so much is not outside of us, but inside. It is not the time to begin a crusade against society, but to begin an honest appraisal of oneself.

Hear these words from St. Hesychios the priest from the Philokalia.

"The heart that is constantly guarded, and is not allowed to receive forms, images, and fantasies of dark and evil spirits, is conditioned by nature to give birth from within itself to thoughts filled with light. For just as coal engenders a flame, or a flame lights a candle, so will God, who from our baptism dwells in our heart, kindle our mind to contemplation when he finds it free from the winds of evil and protected by the guarding of the intellect."

When he speaks of dark and evil spirits he does not mean demons, but our own dark thoughts and emotions.  We must never blame others, even demons, for what is clearly the fruit of our own impurity.

Purity of heart and freedom from the suffering caused by dark thoughts and emotions can come only when we recognize that the evil we hate does not reside outside of us, but inside of us.  When we project on to others our anger it is an action born of fear and ignorance and how terrible a thing it is to call it "holiness."  We see our anger and call it righteous!  It is like staring darkness in the face and calling it light. The height of self-deception. "If the light in you is darkness, how very great is that darkness."

The key is to regard anger as a cause for action, yes, but not for action against others, but against the sad state of our own suffering hearts.  Repentance sets us free from suffering and then the flame St. Hesychios writes about will bring light and healing to the world rather than anger and judgment.

Your servant in Christ,

Fr. Antony