Orthodox America

  Editorial - Judgment Belongs to God

 by Archpriest Valery Lukianov

Bishop Theophan the Recluse writes:  “boasting and judging are the two most commonly found faults in man.”  Judging is indeed a sin which is very widespread.  This is partly explained by the fact that it is so easy to fall into this sin.  Judging occurs without any particular effort and even affords a certain satisfaction.  In judging someone, a person at once justifies himself, lulling his conscience with the self-assured opinion that he is not really indulging in this sin, but merely justly censuring the vices of the offender.  While failing to notice our own shortcomings and weaknesses - which we so readily excuse in ourselves, we nevertheless sternly judge others for the same offenses.  St. John Climacus writes:  “I have seen some committing the gravest sin in secret and without exposure; and in their supposed purity, they have harshly inveighed against persons who have had  petty fall in public.

            Those engaged in the legal professions are well paid, for it is no easy task to judge the affairs of others.  Why then does it appear so easy for us to take the part of a stern judge of other people?  There is only one answer:  we do not want to know our own selves!  Someone was once asked, what was most difficult for him.  He replied, “To know myself.”  And what was easiest?  “To see the faults of my neighbor.”  For this reason a person can speak an hour or more on the subject of another’s faults, but about his own sins he can scarcely find anything to say when he comes to confession.           

            Who art Thou that judgest another?  (James 4:12) 

            He who knows himself, when he sees another sinning, does he not say, “Woe is me!  him today - me tomorrow!”  (Abba Dorotheus).  “Whatever sins we blame our neighbor for, whether bodily or spiritual, we shall fall into them ourselves.  That is certain”  (St. John Climacus).  That most careful discerner of the soul, St. Isaac the Syrian, concludes:  “He who has attained to self-knowledge is higher than he who has become worthy of the vision of angels.”

            Indeed, great harm comes of judging, for this sin alone gives birth to a multitude of pernicious offspring; it can break the bonds of friendship, it can spark quarrels among relations, it breeds hatred and frequently casts a shadow over someone’s good name.  Truly, if someone overhears bad things spoken about a person, will he be able to think well of him?  Will he not rather begin to belittle him in his heart, to judge him?  And is this pleasing to God?

            Let us observe how the slanderer at first only briefly mentions the weaknesses of his neighbor; as soon as he notices, however, that we agree with his judgment, a torrent is let loose, and the poor victim is covered from head to toe with shame.  The hearers, on the other hand, often do not put a stop to such sinful conversations; they even find them entertaining!

            How can one fight against such a widespread evil?  Do you not know that the Lord considers not judging to be of such great virtue that He promises the forgiveness of all sins and full reconciliation with Himself - salvation from judgment and eternal torments:  Judge not, that ye be not judged (Matt. 7:1);  For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you (Matt. 6:14).  If God Himself judges no man, as it says in the Scriptures, but gave all judgment to His Son (John 5:22), and if the Son of God came into the world to save sinners, for He said, I judge no man (John 8:15), how then can you be so bold as to judge someone whom the Lord wishes to save - not to judge, but to grant mercy?

            The virtue of not judging is closely linked with the gift of silence which is compared to a pure, precious metal:  speech is silver, but silence is golden.  St. Seraphim often used to say:  “No one ever repented of silence.”

            Thus we see that judgment of our neighbor belongs to God alone.  For us it is better that we remain silent if we see our brother fall, and to avoid meaningless conversations.

            Does this mean, then, that we should never expose anyone’s sins?  Are we forbidden to say anything about one who does wrong?  Did not the Lord say that if your brother commit a sin, go and reveal it?  It is altogether different to reveal a brother’s sin for the sake of correcting him.  The Lord even bids us to tell of this to another, that he too might take part in the salvation of the one who sinned.  Only be not stern in your admonishment; never reprove in anger; in meekness and sincere love one must try to rouse the soul which is weighed down by sin, for it is already heavy - not with its one judgment, but with fear of God.  The greatest good that you can do for a fallen brother, or for one who has slandered you, is to pray for that person.  St. John Climacus writes:  “If you truly love your neighbor, as you say, then pray secretly and do not mock the man.  For this is the kind of love that is acceptable to the Lord.”

            From all that has been said, we can conclude that each one of us must study not to judge, for this is the easiest path of salvation.  The Holy Fathers have truly said, “Not judging is an effortless means to salvation.”  This may be confirmed with an illustration from the Prologue, wherein is told the story of a monk who ate and drank as much as he pleased and was not particularly zealous in prayer.  He had only one virtue - and that was unnoticeable:  he never judged anyone but himself.  Before his death he became unusually cheerful.  The brothers who came to bid him farewell remarked:  Don’t you fear death?”  The monk replied, “Forgive me; I was negligent, but I judged no one; and an angel showed me the record of my sins and tore it up saying that I could go in peace to the Lord for this alone, that I refrained from judging.”  And he died peacefully.

            If, for the virtue of not judging alone, this monk was raised to such heights, what shall be said of those who struggle for good and also do not judge?  How sweet will be their heavenly reward.  Let us also, while we still have breath, try hard not to judge, but rather, strive to separate ourselves from the ways of the world and set our affections on things above.

                                                                                                Archpriest Valery Lukianov
                                                St. Alexander Nevsky Church, Howell, NJ