Nothing happens by accident in God’s world. If I meet you today, that has been, in some way that is beyond my understanding, already agreed in God’s plan. He has already done so much groundwork, so to say, so much background work to bring you to me today and has put in me the experiences that I’ve had simply because he knows that, potentially at least, there is something that could have happened here today that could change in you or me or all of us in a way that brings us closer to salvation. And when I fail to be the holy man that I know I can be, because he tells me that I can be, I have not only betrayed myself, I’ve betrayed all of you, and I am responsible for all of that.
You see? When we ask for forgiveness, it’s so easy to reduce the world to the material world around us and to see you and you, because we have bodies; we have physical beings; we perceive each other. It’s easy to say, “Forgive me because I’ve said something wrong,” “Forgive me because I didn’t have patience,” “Forgive me because”—I don’t know—“I hit you” or something like that. But to have the humility that allows you to realize that you have sinned because I have failed you, that is much more subtle and more difficult to realize.
There’s something very strange, very subtle, but extremely dangerous that I have seen, particularly in the West, but it is increasingly present in the East as well. There’s a shame almost, an embarrassment to speak of the spiritual world around us. We are ashamed to talk about angels. We are ashamed to talk about archangels. It’s almost with embarrassment that we mention the word demons or the devil. Because we are very sophisticated creatures, aren’t we? We don’t live in the medieval times. We now have all these universities behind us; we have all this education and knowledge. How can I be such an idiot that I can actually believe and talk about spiritual beings? Well, I wanted to tell all of you that this idiot has all this education, and I’m here to ask you to not be ashamed, to not be embarrassed, because this is, again, the reality. It is.
There’s a question there, somewhere in the sayings of the Desert Fathers, in the first millennium: What is the greatest temptation of the devil? And the father says the greatest woe of the devil which will take place at the end of the world, towards the end of the world, will be to make people doubt his existence. That’s how the devil will hope to win this war: by tricking us into believing that his existence is make-believe, by tricking us into thinking that everything happens because of me or because of you. But I’m here to remind you that we are surrounded by spiritual beings. I’m here to tell you that every time we commit a sin in the sense that sinning has, turning away from God, it’s not just us being dreadful human beings—although we are; at least, I know I am—there is always a spiritual being, there is always at least an angel of the devil, tempting us, pushing us, calling us to look anywhere else, in any other direction except to Christ.
We must keep that in mind, and not only to use it as sort of a justification for our sins. On the contrary, because you see, you are here, all of you are here, but you are not alone. Each and every one of you have traveled here today with all the spiritual beings that have become part of your spiritual household, so to say. All your sins are not just acts, deeds, behavior which we do in secret or in view of the whole world and once it’s done it’s gone. That’s not the way sins work. The minute we sin, we have agreed to open the doors of our household to all these newcomers, to all these spiritual beings, and then as we travel in the world, we have this cohort; we have this court, this royal spiritual court, traveling with us everywhere.
When you meet people, when I meet people, instead of being the holy man that I could have been and instead of greeting you and hugging you and communicating to you the Holy Spirit that I know could reside in me, could dwell in me, I communicate to you and I expose all of you to the presence of the demons I have welcomed in my life through opening those doors. We influence ourselves in a profoundly negative way. We become guilty for each others’ sins. You meet somebody in the street and you don’t know why all of a sudden you have this anger overcoming you. You meet someone in the street and all of a sudden there is this feeling of just awkwardness. You don’t feel comfortable any more and something is gnawing at you, nagging at you. You’ve lost your peace. You meet people, and all of a sudden you have all sorts of thoughts, all sorts of cravings that are not your own. You just do not recognize yourself. This is something we do to the world, much more so than the world does to us, because, don’t forget, we are the soldiers of Christ; we are Christians. The fight, the battle, is for one of us, and it is much more intense than the battle for someone who has not met Christ.
So where does that leave us? Instead of being the salt of the earth, instead of being carriers of the Holy Spirit, a sort of mobile, walking chalices that take Christ, the Christ we commune with, that take him into the world so that whoever shakes our hands, whomever we speak to, whoever gives us a hug interacts in fact with his or her own Maker. Instead of doing mission in that sense, by bringing the Holy Spirit into the world, we in fact push the world into sin because we have all these spirits around us that travel with us and influence the world.
I’ll tell you one more thing, and then I’ll stop, but I have to say this because in all my mind, from the moment Lent began, and I have mentioned it I think once or twice before in passing, but I do believe it’s extremely important; I do believe it’s something that will grow with me and God will enlighten me at some point why I’ve received this. I wondered at the beginning of Lent, actually while I was giving a talk somewhere, about forgiveness: What is my responsibility for all the newly born or even unborn children that I’ve come across in my lifetime? And I’ve come across so many. I’ve come across perhaps a thousand or tens of thousands. Because you go into a shop and you see pregnant ladies; you go into a restaurant and there they are. You go and you visit someone’s house, and they have someone who’s pregnant or one other among the guests who is pregnant. You come to church, and out of a few hundred people in church there are a few pregnant ladies.
I’ve done that all my life, and I’ve done that not alone but surrounded by all these beings, which, again, I have welcomed in my life by opening the door. I am the one who opened the door every time I turned my face away from Christ; every time I’ve sinned in any way, I have opened the door and welcomed into the household of my heart one demon or another. And then I travel the world and I meet all these tiny little creatures that have absolutely no protection against anything like this. They aren’t even born. They don’t even have the protection of holy baptism or chrismation. They are completely exposed to these horrible demons which I bring them in contact with.
And I pray to God that that is something that you will take away from me today. If you take that away, I have not wasted my time. And then I wonder: What is my responsibility in how these babies are actually born and for the sins and for the temptations and the passions that they will fight with for the rest of their lives? Then I do wonder: Who, who visited with my mother when I was in my mother’s womb? Who visited with her, and what spirits did those people bring me in contact with when I was in my mother’s womb with no protection, not even baptism or chrismation? Where is that line, that elusive, imaginary line that we believe to be between my sins and the sins of everyone else? How am I to know that I am the only one who will have to answer for my sins before Christ? Who knows who else will stand there before me, before Christ, with me, in complete shock for themselves, giving answer for my sins? And on the other hand, for how many other children who have grown into adults and have fought things that they cannot fight—for how many of those will I also be guilty?
These are not just thoughts that come randomly to me, because we know that we are all sinners. We know this, that it’s our fallen nature; it’s human nature, and we know it from the Old Testament. It’s not even something that we’ve learned from Christ. It’s in the psalter, for God’s sake. “I was shaped in iniquity, and my mother conceived me in sin.” From the beginning, we all partake of this nature, and this nature is sinful from its beginning, from Adam and Eve. But this is not what I’m talking about. What I am talking about is not the sinfulness that comes from our fallen nature; what I am talking about is the personal sinfulness that is open not only to us as adults but also even to babies in their mothers’ wombs.
Later on, in another psalm—58, 57, one of those—David the Prophet says that the wicked has sinned inside his mother’s womb. The potential to sin exists inside our mothers’ wombs. In the New Testament, Christ is asked by his disciples when they meet that blind man—do you remember?—who has sinned? He, or his parents, that he was born blind? He is not one of those who had sinned and at a certain point became blind. He was born blind, and in the apostles’ minds there is the possibility that he sinned before birth and therefore he was born blind. Christ doesn’t tell them that that makes no sense. He reacts very agreeably, as if that is real, there is a potential reasoning for being born blind. He simply says, no, in this case neither he nor his parents have sinned. This is a confirmation from Christ himself that already in our mothers’ wombs we choose good or we choose evil. We are influenced in those decisions, in those choices, by the spiritual beings that others bring us in contact with.
It’s interesting that that’s the one time that Christ doesn’t just say, “Do you believe that you can see? See,” or anything like that. He actually fills the need to almost recreate the eyes of the blind man. He spits in dust, and he makes mud, and then he takes the mud he’s made with his saliva and recreates the eyes of that man, anoints the eyes of the blind man, just like he did when he created Adam. There’s a re-creation of that being, of that man, back to a time before he could make a choice and turn away from him. That is a very special, striking, weird thing for him to do.
There’s also all those old traditions that the Church has, that advises parents and young mothers in particular, and then mothers who have given birth not to go out, not to bring the child outside the home for a while, until baptism; to baptize a child very soon, as soon as possible; not to have guests. You go and you give communion to those parents. You hear the confessions of those parents. You go and you bless the house where the child is being born and being brought up until the time for baptism comes. You create this holy environment where no outsider and the spirits of unknown people has access, because you need this larger womb, this larger safe holy womb, to keep that baby safe until the baptism.
And even so, at baptism, we still go through the prayers of exorcism, and we make that baby or the godparent holding the baby to spit on the devil. We make the baby or the godparent holding the baby to denounce the devil. We name the demons that could hide in the heart of the baby. That’s the exact formula of the prayer: “Expel these demons that lurk in his or her heart.” A tiny little thing that has, what, seven, eight days sometimes. They used to baptize babies, very early as the 200s, at eight days old, instead of the circumcision.
There is a spiritual world around us, and we should not allow ourselves to be so proud and so taken with our education and our sophisticated minds of people living in the 21st century to believe for a second that this spiritual world is not real. We are guilty for each other’s sins. We partake of each other’s sinfulness. And when one of us falls, through him or her we all fall one step lower. And also we are all guilty of the sin of that one man or that one woman. Don’t forget that, because if we forget that, we forget that we need to ask for forgiveness for all of it, and we die not even having tried to ask for forgiveness, let alone being forgiven for all of that.
I don’t know. It feels like I’m drained, so perhaps this is what I had to tell you today. Go back, always go back, to this commandment: Never judge; always forgive. Never judge, even when you see evil being done. Try to prevent it if you can. Be fully aware that evil is evil. We know what is good; we know what is bad. This is not about discerning between God and the devil, discerning what is good and what is bad; this is about not judging. This is about letting go of someone else’s sin, because I perceive your sin as being my own. I perceive your sin as being my failure to contribute to your not sinning, and also my failure for having put all this poison of mine into the world, and that poison only God knows where it strikes. I don’t know; I shall find out in the judgment day, but I don’t know until then.
Forgive. Forgive. Forgive, and even more so never, ever judge. Amen. Amen. Amen.