St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov) Words and Letters on Faith and Salvation
To see one's own sin
That terrible time, that terrible hour is coming in which all my sins will appear naked before God the Judge, before His angels, and all of humanity. Sensing the state of my soul in this terrible hour, I am filled with horror. Under the influence of vivid and powerful premonition, with trembling I hurry to plunge into an appraisal of myself and I hasten to acknowledge the sins in deed, word, and thought marked in the book of my conscience.
Long unopened books become covered with dust and destroyed by moths. When one takes up such a book, he is met with great difficulty in reading it. And such is my conscience. Since I have not examined it in so long, it hardly could be opened. Opening it, I do not find the satisfaction that I had expected. Only substantial sins are seen clearly; fine print, of which there is a majority, is almost completely smudged out and it is impossible to make out what was written.
God, only God can return the brightness to faded writing and save man from an evil conscience (Heb. 10:22). Only God can give man to see his sins, his falls, in which the root, the seed, the bud, is the aggregate of all the sins of humanity.
Calling on God's mercy and strength through intense prayer united with a reasonable fast, tears, and weeping of the heart, I once again open the book of my conscience, again examine the quantity and quality of my sins. I scrutinize what the sins that I committed resulted in for me.
I see: "For mine iniquities are risen higher than my head; as a heavy burden have they pressed heavily upon me. ... They are multiplied more than the hairs of my head "(Psalm 37: 5, 39:13 LXX). What is the consequence of such sinfulness? "Mine iniquities took hold of me, and I became unable to see ... my heart hath failed me" (Psalm 39:13 LXX). The consequences of a sinful life can be blindness of the intellect, hardheartedness, insensitivity of the heart. The intellect of a deep-rooted sinner does not see good nor evil; his heart looses the ability for spiritual perception. If, leaving his sinful life, such a man begins to perform pious acts, then his heart, as though estranged, does not sympathize with his striving towards God.
Then when the multitude of his sins are revealed through God's grace, it is impossible for him not to become completely perplexed and not sink into deep sadness. "My heart is troubled, my strength hath failed me; and the light of mine eyes, even this is not with me ... my loins are filled with mockings, "that is, my actions are filled with stumblings from my habit for sinning that forcefully draws me into new transgressions; "My bruises are become noisome and corrupt in the face of my folly," that is, sinful passions have grown and terribly harmed me because of my inattentive life; "There is no healing in my flesh," that is, through only my own effort there is no healing, for my whole being is smitten and infected with sin (Psalm 37:11, 8, 6, 8 LXX).
Through consciousness of my sins, repentance, confession, and regret of them, I throw the innumerable number of them into the abyss of God's mercy. In order in the future to be on guard from sin, I look attentively, having drawn into myself, at how sin operates against me, how it approaches me, what it says to me.
It approaches me like a thief with a covered face; "Their words were smoother than oil" (Psalm 54:22 LXX). It lies to me and offers iniquity. There is poison in its mouth and its tongue is a deadly stinger.
"Enjoy yourself!" It whispers quietly and slyly, "why is enjoyment forbidden you? Enjoy yourself! What sin is there in it? "And the evil doer offers to break the commandment of the All-holy Lord.
I should not have paid any attention to its words, for I know that it is a thief and murderer. But some inexplicable weakness, weakness of will defeats me! I attend to the words of sin and look at the forbidden fruit. In vain does my conscience remind me that the partaking of that fruit is also the partaking of death.
If there is no forbidden fruit before my eyes, suddenly that fruit is vividly present in my imagination, drawn by a charmed hand.
The heart's feelings are drawn to a tempting picture, as to a harlot. Her appearance is captivating-she exhales temptation, she is richly adorned in shining raiment, and her deadly actions are thoroughly hidden. Sin seeks the sacrifice of the heart when the body can not bring such a sacrifice because of the lack of the object of temptation itself.
It acts in me through sinful thoughts, through sinful feelings of the heart and of the body, through bodily senses, through the imagination.
To what conclusion does such an attitude to myself bring me? It brings me to the conclusion that in me, throughout my whole being, lives the damage of sin that sympathizes and aids sin that attacks me from outside. I am like a prisoner, shackled with heavy chains: any who is allowed will grab me and drag me where they will, because a prisoner bound with chains does not have the ability to resist.
Long ago, sin penetrated into paradise. It offered my forebears to partake in the forbidden fruit. It tempted them and smote them with eternal death. And to me, their descendant, is continually repeated that same offer; attempts are constantly made to tempt and kill me.
Adam and Eve were cast out from paradise immediately after sinning and driven into a land of sorrow (Gen. 3:23, 24): I was born in that land of weeping and distress! However, this does not justify me: paradise has been brought to me here by the Redeemer and planted in my heart. With sin, I drove paradise from my heart, and now within my heart is the confusion of good and evil, the fierce battle of good with evil, the clash of innumerable passions, and torment, which is the foretaste of the eternal torment of hell .
I see within myself the proof that I am a son of Adam: I preserve his inclination towards evil, I consent to the offers of the tempter, although I know for sure that he offers me deception and is preparing to kill me.
In vain would I accuse my forebears in imparting their sin to me: I am freed from captivity to sin by the Redeemer, and I now fall into sin not from being forced but willfully.
Once, my forebears in paradise broke one command of God, while I, being in the bosom of the Church of Christ, constantly break all the Divine commands of Christ, my God and Savior.
First, my soul is agitated with anger and remembrance of wrongs. In my imagination, a dagger shines above the head of my enemy and my heart is intoxicated by the satisfaction of revenge carried out in a dream. Then scattered heaps of gold rise up, followed by grand palaces, gardens, all manners of luxury, voluptuousness, and pride that are acquired by gold and for which a sin-loving man worships that idol-the means of realization of all earthly desires. And then I am seduced by honor and power. I am drawn in and dream about governance of people and countries, about acquiring earthly goods for them, while acquiring earthly glory for myself. Then, quite vividly, before me are tables with steaming and sweet-smelling foods. I ridiculously and also lamentably delight in the temptations before my eyes. I see myself as righteous, or, more correctly, my heart is being hypocritical, trying to attribute itself righteousness, flattering itself, caring for human praise and attempting to attract it.
The passions challenge me one after another, continuously giving over one to another and disturb and harass me so that I do not see my own pitiful state! Covering my intellect is an impenetrable curtain of darkness, and on my heart lies a heavy stone of insensibility.
Will my intellect come to its senses, will it want to turn toward the good? Opposing it is my heart that is accustomed to the delight in sin and my body that has acquired bestial desires. I have even lost the understanding that my body, created for immortality, is capable of Divine desires and movements, while bestial yearnings are its ailment, introduced by the fall.
The disparate parts that make up my being-mind, heart, and body-are cut off, disconnected, operate independently, and oppose one another; they only operate in conjunction, in consent against God, for a short time when sin is at work.
Such is my state! It is the death of the soul, while the body lives. But I am satisfied with my state; not satisfied due to humility but due to my blindness and hard-heartedness. My soul does not sense its deadness as the body does not sense its deadness when it is separated from the soul by death.
If I sensed my deadness, I would be in constant repentance! If I sensed my deadness, I would care about the resurrection!
I am completely occupied with the cares of the world and worry little about my spiritual poverty. I cruelly judge the littlest transgressions of my neighbors, while I myself am filled with sin, blinded by it, turned into a pillar of salt as Lot's wife, not capable of any spiritual movement.
I did not obtain repentance because I do not see my sin, and I do not see my sin because I still work for sin. The one who even with one thought or sympathy of his heart delights in sin or allows himself to partake in it can not see his own sin.
Only one who has with a definitive will renounced any friendship with sin, who has stood at attentive guard at the gates of his house with drawn sword-the Word of God-who defends himself and attacks sin with this sword in whatever form it approaches him will be able to see his own sin.
To the one who has done a great deed, who has established enmity with sin by forcibly seizing his mind, heart, and body away from the sin, God gives a great gift: to see one's sins.
Blessed is the soul that has seen the sin nesting inside! Blessed is the soul that has seen in itself the fall of the forebears, the decrepitude of the old Adam! Such a vision of one's sins is spiritual sight, the sight of an intellect healed from blindness by Divine Grace. With fasting and prostrations does the Holy Eastern Church teach us to ask of God for the vision of one's sin.
Blessed is the soul that constantly studies the Law of God! For in it one can see the image and beauty of the New Man, and one can discover and correct one's failings.
Blessed is the soul that has bought a field of repentance by making itself dead in relationship to sinful undertakings! In that field, it will find the priceless treasure of salvation.
If you acquire the field of repentance, weep as a child before God. Do not ask for anything from God if you are able and give yourself with self-sacrifice into His will.
Understand and sense that you are a creature and that God is the Creator. Give yourself without reserve into the will of the Creator, bring Him only child-like weeping, bring Him a quiet heart ready to fulfill His will and be formed by His will.
If, by your childishness, you are not able to delve into prayerful silence and weeping before God, then pray before Him a humble prayer, a prayer for the forgiveness of sins and healing from sinful passions, from those terrible moral ailments that come from willful , oft-repeated transgressions.
Blessed is the soul that has recognized itself completely unworthy of God, that has condemned itself as cursed and sinful! This soul is on the path of salvation; it has no self-delusion.
On the contrary, the one who considers himself prepared to receive grace, who considers himself worthy of God, who expects and asks for His mystical visitation to hear and see the Lord is deceiving himself, lying to himself. He has climbed to a high cliff of pride from which is a fall into a dark abyss of destruction (St. Isaac the Syrian, Word 55). Into this abyss fall all those who rise up in pride against God, daring, without shame, to call themselves worthy of God, and from this self-conceit and self-delusion say to God: "Speak, O Lord, your servant is listening . "
The young prophet Samuel, after hearing the Lord calling to him, did not consider himself worthy of conversing with the Lord, and he appeared before his aged mentor asking him for instructions of how to behave. Samuel a second time heard the same voice calling him and again appeared before his mentor. His mentor understood that the voice calling him was the voice of God, and he instructed the youth that when he hears such a call to answer: "Speak, O Lord, for thy servant heareth" (1 Kings 3: 9 LXX [1 Sam . 3: 9])
The voluptuous and proud dreamer dares to say the same, though being called upon by no one, intoxicated by his high opinion of himself, inventing voices and consolation in himself that flatter his proud heart and that deceive himself and his gullible followers.
Son of the One, Holy, and True Eastern Church! Be guided in your unseen podvig (labors) by the instructions of the Holy Fathers of your Church: they enjoin you to avert yourself from every vision, from every voice coming from outside and within you as from an obvious cause of self-deception until you have been renewed by the obvious action of the Holy Spirit (St. Gregory of Sinai, On Prelest etc. Philokalia, Vol 1;.. Sts Kallistos and Ignatius of Xanthopoulos, Philokalia, Vol 2, Chapter 73)
Preserve your mind without visions; drive from it all approaching dreams and thoughts that the fall has exchanged for the truth. Invested with repentance, stand with fear and reverence before the great God who is able to cleanse your sins and renew you with His Most-holy Spirit. The Spirit will instruct you "into all truth" (John 16:13).
The senses of weeping and repentance are the one thing needful for the soul that has come to the Lord with the intention of receiving from Him the forgiveness of sins. This is the good part! If you have chosen it, may it not be taken from you! Do not exchange this treasure for empty, false, unnatural, and non-grace-filled feelings; do not flatter yourself to your own destruction.
"If some of the Fathers," says St. Isaac the Syrian, "wrote about what the purity, health, dispassionateness, and vision of the soul is, they did not write about it so that we would seek and wait for these things. Scripture says: 'The kingdom of God cometh not with observation' (Luke 17:20). Those in whom lives this expectation have acquired pride and downfall ... Seeking with the expectation of the great gifts of God is rejected by the Church of God. This is not a sign of love for God but an ailment of the soul "(St. Isaac of Syria, Word 55).
All of the saints recognized themselves unworthy of God and, in this way, they revealed that their worthiness consisted in humility (St. Isaac of Syria, Word 36).
All those who have been in self-delusion considered themselves worthy of God, by which they showed that their soul was enveloped in pride and demonic prelest (deception). Some received and followed after demons who had presented themselves in the form of angels; demons appeared to others in their own form and, feigning defeat by their prayer, led them into pride. Others aroused their imagination, excited their blood, and caused a nervous movement in themselves; they accepted this as grace-filled delight and fell into self-delusion, into complete darkness and numbered themselves with the outcast spirits.
If you need to converse with yourself, do not bring flattery but self-reproach. Bitter medicine is useful to us in our state of degradation. The one who flatters himself has already received his reward here on earth-self-deception, praise and love from the world that is in enmity with God: in eternity, they await nothing but judgment.
"My sin is always before me," (Psalm 50: 5 LXX) says St. David; his sin was constantly an object of his consideration. "For I will declare mine iniquity, and I will take heed concerning my sin" (Psalm 37:19 LXX).
St. David concerned himself with self-condemnation and denunciation of his sin, and, when his sin was already forgiven, the gift of the Holy Spirit was returned to him. And this was not enough: he denounced his sin, confessed it in the hearing of the whole world (Psalm 50).
When the Holy Fathers of the Eastern Church, particularly the desert dwellers, reached the heights of spiritual exercises, their practices consolidated into only repentance. Repentance encompassed their whole life, their whole activity; it was the result of seeing one's sins.
One great Father was asked of what should consist the labor of a solitary monk. He answered: "Your deadened soul is before your eyes and you ask what you should do?" (St. Isaac the Syrian). Weeping is a substantial labor of the true ascetic of Christ; weeping is his labor from the time of taking up his podvig (labor) to the completion of his podvig.
To see one's sin and the repentance it gives birth to is the essence of his labor, which does not have an ending on earth: seeing one's sins incites repentance, and repentance brings cleansing. Gradually, the cleansed eye of the intellect begins to examine such shortcomings and damage throughout his whole being, which previously, because of his own darkness, he did not notice at all.
O Lord! Grant us to see our transgressions so that our intellect would be completely drawn to attention to our own sins and stop seeing the sins of our neighbors and, in this way, we would see all our neighbors as good. Grant our hearts to abandon the ruinous attention to the failings of our neighbors, to unite all of our attention to the acquisition of purity and holiness commanded and prepared by You. Grant us to once again whiten our desecrated spiritual garments: they were already cleansed in the waters of baptism, and now they need, after being desecrated, cleansing with tears. Grant us to see, in the light of Your Grace, the multifarious ailments in us that are destroying the heart's spiritual movements and introducing into it carnal movements that are in enmity to the Kingdom of God. Grant us the great gift of repentance that precedes and gives birth to the great gift of seeing one's sins. Protect us with these great gifts from the chasms of self-delusion that open up in the soul from not taking notice of and not understanding the sinfulness of self-delusion, which is born from not taking notice of and not understanding voluptuousness and vanity. Keep us on the path to You with these great gifts and grant us to reach You, Who calls confessing sinners and those that refuse to call themselves righteous, and to eternally praise You in eternal blessedness, the One True God, the Redeemer of captives, the Savior of the lost. Amen.