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  The State of a Sinner


By Bishop Theophan the Recluse

       The Word of God often likens a sinner to a man immersed in a deep sleep. It is not always that he is marked by an obvious vice. A common characteristic of sinners is the absence both of a fervent desire to please God and of an aversion to sin. Being full of concern for many things, they are completely indifferent to their own salvation; they do not see that they are in danger. They appear to be living a decent life, but they are cold toward faith.

      Apart from God, man sees the purpose of his life solely in himself. In falling away from God's completeness, he becomes empty and, therefore, constantly concerned about ways to fill this emptiness. this bottomless abyss. In his desire to fill this inner void, man spends his life toiling in the sweat of his brow and keeping himself busy doing many things. These activities and concerns absorb all his attention, his time and his energies. In them he sees the chief good for himself and, therefore, he never abides within himself. He is always outside himself, in things, in vain pursuits. He spills himself, as it were, over various things and lives in them. Clearly, a sinful life is distinguished by a lack of concern for salvation and by this perpetual concern for many things of the world, which leave no room for the "one thing needful," the concern for salvation.

      One can speak of an emptiness of mind, which has forgotten the One Who is all. It leads to man's search for more knowledge, to a desire to investigate everything, to inquisitiveness.

      One can speak of an emptiness of will, which no longer possesses the One Who is all. This leads to man's acquisitiveness, to his desire to subject everything to his own will and possess it.

      One can speak of an emptiness of heart, which has lost the ability to delight in the One Who is all. This generates man's thirst for many and varied pleasures, his thirst for things which delight his feelings.

      A sinner is constantly burdened with cares. He wants to know as much as possible, to possess as much as possible, to enjoy himself as much as possible. Inquisitiveness attracts him, his heart is drawn to enjoyments and his will suffers a strong inclination to follow. Often a man spends his entire life in this vicious circle. By observing the movements of his soul in the course of even a single day, one may ascertain that this is so indeed.

      What is worse, this circling about gathers momentum; the sinner's enslavement to sin keeps increasing because he is not alone; there are a great many like him in the world. Their mutual communication and contact serve to increase their inquisitiveness, their greed, their thirst for pleasures. This world of vain pursuits--with all its occupations, rules and language, its pleasures, entertainments and variety of ideas brings about the destruction of the spirit of men who are entrapped by their love for the world So deeply immersed are they in worldly pursuits that it is beyond their power to perceive anything of a spiritual nature, of the other world. And so they live on without venturing off their beaten track.

      Furthermore, the world has its own prince, a cunning and experienced ,seducer of men's souls. He has free access to a sinful soul by way of its body and its preoccupations. He does not permit the soul to leave the realm of many cares and vain pursuits. On the contrary, he attempts to increase its inquisitiveness, its greed and love for pleasures.

      Innumerable, evil spirits, subordinate to the prince of this world, keep rushing from place to place, enticing sinners by various means into their nets and trying to push back into the abyss anyone who tries to climb out of it. This invisible realm of spirits has its own high places, its throne-rooms, where plans of action are devised with the express purpose of enslaving men to sin...

       Every sinner is caught in this sphere of sin. However one thing above all chains him to this realm. This one thing may have an appearance of something, good and proper. Satan's particular concern is that this one thing of man's choosing should wholly absorb his consciousness and his soul, that it should not be God alone but something outside God. This one thing may be a certain passion of the body or soul, even a scholarly pursuit or interest in art.

      Sometimes a sinner may possess great knowledge but be blind towards his own salvation; though he may be constantly occupied with worldly affairs, he is inactive and unconcerned about the work of salvation; though his heart may experience feelings of anxiety or pleasure, it is insensitive to everything spiritual. He does not see the state he is in, and therefore he is not anxious to remedy it. He is wholly convinced that there is nothing he should desire, that everything should remain the way it is. Therefore, he considers any reminder of another way of life as unnecessary. He cannot understand what it is for and shuns it. 

      As a man in a deep sleep is unable to rise and ward off an approaching danger without someone waking hint up, so, too, a sinner is unable to come to his senses without the help of Divine grace, By the mercy of God it is always ready and waiting to rouse every sinner out of his sleep.

      A man awakes, rises and gets ready to go about his tasks. Likewise, the repentant sinner is roused from his sinful sleep, he reaches the decision to change his ways (rises) and, finally, in the Mysteries of Confession and Communion he is clothed with the strength to start a new life (ready to go about his work).

      The parable of the Prodigal Son illustrates these three instances as follows: he came to himself, I will arise and .go (decision to leave the sinful ways), and he arose. He says to his father: I have sinned (repentance) and his father gives him the best robe (forgiveness of sins) and prepares a feast for him (Holy Communion).

      From the above we see that there are three stages in a sinner's return to God: 1) awakening from a sinful sleep, 2) the resolution to leave sin and to please God and 3) receiving divine strength in the Holy Sacrament of Confession and Communion. 

(An abridged exposition of 'The State of a Sinner" from The Path to Salvation by Bishop Theophan the Recluse; reprinted from Pokrovskii Listok No. 83, printing Press of St Blessed Xenia, Melbourne Australia; March 1984)


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