The Way of Self-Blame
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.