The Way of Self-Blame - Printable Version
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The Way of Self-Blame - kirk yacoub - 30-06-2007
Is there anybody out there? Everyone has been silent.... Anyway...
One of the seemingly most incorrigible aspects of the human character is the tendency to blame everybody else for everything. Hence scapegoats:
everything is the fault of the Jews/Blacks/Irish/Catholics/Muslims etc etc.
If you get caught doing something wrong - and getting caught seems to be the only sin worth worrying about ! - then it's because somebody else told you to do it, or forced you to do it, or else made it impossible for you not to do it. In short: "It weren't me, officer, it were 'im!" This refusal to accept responsibility for our own actions is one of our biggest delusions.
Christianity turns things upside-down and demands that we look at ourselves honestly. According to St Anthony one of the two greatest works that a man can do is "always to take the blame for his own sins before God," which seems simple enough, but which, as we have just seen, goes completely against the grain of our most cherished delusions.
The geat Monastic Fathers, through prayer, fasting and vigil received, by the grace of God, the knowledge of how we may overcome our delusions.
This method has been called The Way of Self-Blame. Abba Poemen described integrity as being "always to accuse oneself", and Abba Or concisely stated: "In all temptations do not complain about anyone else, but say to yourself: these things happen to me because of my sins."
If someone, seeing that this path is apparently one of tenacious hardship,
objects, "But what about the light and pleasant yoke?" another spiritual father from the Egyptian desert, John Kolobos (the Dwarf) explained that the light and pleasant yoke is precisely "self-accusation", and that people
tend to burden themselves with what they think is the easier option,
"self-justification" which, in reality, is the heavy burden. This is an explanation well worth pondering on.
The spirit of The Way of Self-Blame knows no boundaries and will not tolerate any accusatory finger-pointing. St Gregory Palamas, the great 14th century Byzantine mystic, would not even permit our forefather Adam to be blamed. In this context it is well worth pondering St Gregory's
"The man who drinks poison knowing that it is poison, and so wretchedly causes his own death, is more culpabale than he who takes
poison and so kills himself without knowing beforehand that it is poison.
Therefore each of us is more culpable and guilty than Adam."
Nor is it permitted to blame the Devil for our sins. Yes, he tempts us, cajoles us, but what else do we expect of him? One of the golden threads of the Philokalia is that the Devil cannot force us to commit sin, that we sin
because we acquiesce to temptation; we sin because we choose to.
Therefore, we must stop fooling ourselves and acknowledge that we are to blame.
And if it is objected that so much self-blaming can lead to despair, we say that the confession of our sins should never be isolated from that wonderful truth, namely the restorative power of Christ's forgiveness. Faith in that erases all despair.
Self-will - John Charmley - 04-07-2007
Thank you for waking us all up! I suspect that with all Internet fora there are times when things go quiet.
You raise an important topic. My understanding of the Orthodox conception of sin is that it is when our will is not aligned with God's will - when it is self-will. I suspect that part of that is not taking the blame for our own actions. It is easy enough to see how this works, and even for a Christian, there is the refuge of saying that our nature is weakened by sin, so we could not help it!
Living the Christian life should be a process of transformation, and that involves transforming the will, redirecting it from itself to its real object - the will of God. In a world marred by the effects of sin, that is hardly going to be easy - which is one reason we need the Church, and why we need to develop a spiritual practice within the Church. We are but children in need of support in this task, and we approach Him as His children seeking that support; and we have His assurance it will be given.
Living that life in this society is a demanding task, since every day we are exposed to so many phenomena that run counter to it. Society is dominated by materialism, but the assurance that the acquisition of goods will make us happy, and that if we are not happy it can only be because we do not have enough material possessions. Oddly enough, it may be more difficult to live the Christian life outside of monastic settings than inside.
If we place ourselves at the centre of life's concerns we seek to create a world made in our image - and we miss the point that life is about transforming ourselves into the image of He who made us.
- Rick Henry - 02-08-2007
In the GO thread (Generous Orthodoxy) today, you shared a piece on temptation which included a reference to self-blame. This brought to mind what you said here above:
kirk yacoub Wrote:Nor is it permitted to blame the Devil for our sins. Yes, he tempts us, cajoles us, but what else do we expect of him? One of the golden threads of the Philokalia is that the Devil cannot force us to commit sin, that we sin because we acquiesce to temptation; we sin because we choose to.
And, as we consider man's responsibility together with the sovereignty of God, in the end, I think we see, as you say, "we sin because we choose to." So, yes . . .
Quote:Therefore, we must stop fooling ourselves and acknowledge that we are to blame.
As, John said in the GO thread, we are not to play the blame game, and say something like "the devil made me do it." And, to this I would like to mention how easy it is for us/me at times to point to others, as well, and blame things in my life on 'them.' So it is healthy to have a proper perspective as we consider this topic from an acknowledgment of our culpability. It is healthy for us to have a high level of awareness of the difference between the Tempter/Deluder and the one who is tempted, the one who may be deluded. But, I also think it is healthy for us to know when we deceive ourselves, when we are self-deceived. In such cases as when we are pointing our fingers at others indicating that they are the source of our present poor condition, Satan and his demons do not need to be at work. In this case, we blame others making ourselves blameworthy--we are caught in a trap of our own devise. There is no need for the Old Deluder to work in our lives, we have deluded ourselves, we have overcome ourselves.
Which is why I thank you for this thread, for this reminder, for this which brings awareness to those of us who are found to have sleepy eyes at times. Because what does the Apostle Peter say about all of this? He says:
Quote:Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. [I Pet 5:8]
And, for those like me who may have been awakened, and had the covers pulled back, by your writing here, may we also be comforted, by your conclusion of the whole matter:
Quote:And if it is objected that so much self-blaming can lead to despair, we say that the confession of our sins should never be isolated from that wonderful truth, namely the restorative power of Christ's forgiveness. Faith in that erases all despair.
Where would any of us be without "the restorative power of Christ's forgiveness?"
Very good Kirk. This is not always a popular subject, or a good way to draw a crowd; but thank you. May God continue to bless you as you preach the Word for continued awakenings in Christ.
Self blame - John Charmley - 02-08-2007
Dear Rick, Dear Kirk,
I am put in mind here of this from the Catholic Epistle of St. James:
Quote:1:13 Let no one say when he is tempted, I am tempted by God; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.
How true that in our desire to escape the consequences of our own actions we will seek to blame God and/or the Devil. St. James guides us aright in what follows:
Quote:1:22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.How often do we hear but fail to 'do', or fail to give God the credit when we 'do'; how like us to be quick to blame but slow to give credit.
And yet, in all of this come a question about 'the self'. Often I read in Orthodox sources about the need to annihilate the 'self', to 'crucify' it, to subdue it, to 'break' it. The usual references here are to Matthew 16:24:
Quote:24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.and the similar comments at Mark 18:24 and Luke 9:23, or Paul's injunction in Romans 8:13 that
Quote:For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
But is the injunction here to 'break' or 'annihilate' that self, or, with His help, to guide it aright to do His will? I sometimes wonder if there may not be elements of Manichean/Gnostic tendencies in the extreme distaste for the self and the flesh manifested in some Orthodox writings; are we not made in His image and for Him?
At times, in some of the Russian writings with which I am familiar, I fear that the difference between the broken self and cultic brainwashing may not always be discernible. It is the broken and contrite heart which God does not despise, surely?
But maybe I stray too far here?