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People Will Confess Other People’s Sins (But Not Their Own)

by a Monastic in Boston

In his wonderful article “A Sane Family in an Insane World,” Fr. Seraphim Johnson wrote:

The very first thing you have to do is recognize that the world is insane, and you are infected with insanity too. If you think you’re healthy, you can’t be cured. But if you know you’re sick, out of touch with reality, then there is hope for you to be healed. Knowing [more about] the Orthodox Faith and reading books which remind us of the Faith and its true view of the world is essential for recognizing our sickness and being healed from it.

We should all acknowledge that every one of us has fallen short of the glory of God. Just because our secret sins have not been exposed doesn’t mean that we are guiltless and therefore have the prerogative to judge and condemn our fellow man. We are all sinful, all tainted, and our Saviour suffered for all of us. All are equally precious to Him, and it is to Him that the final judgment belongs. That is why Christ’s words about forgiveness are directly followed by the words about judgment: “Judge not, that ye be not judged” (Matt. 7:1).

The holy canons of the Church stipulate that witnesses in spiritual trials who give contradictory evidence lose their credibility.

How about our own credibility before God when we presume to condemn one another when our own testimony is tainted?

One complication here is that nobody thinks that they are sinful or sick or insane. Many who go to church, for example, do so because they want to feel good about themselves. Others have absorbed the self-righteousness of the non-Orthodox “Christian” society around them.

To put it one way, everyone wants to think of himself as decent, respectable, basically good: To put it another way: none of us want to know the truth about ourselves!

Or (like the Pharisee), some say: “Thank God, I’m not like him!” as they point indignantly at another.

St. Anastasios of Sinai expresses it nicely: we Christians are currently not appointed to be judges of others, “if indeed,” says St. Anastasios, “you know your own limits and have not completely lost your mind.”

The Lord tells us (St. Matthew 19:28) when, and if, we will be appointed to be judges of others.

If we may not judge, how then can we help our erring brother? By turning our attention to the beam in our own eye (Matt. 7:3–4); only then, after we have struggled to remove it, shall we understand how deeply the causes of sin are embedded within us, how hard it is to extract them, how difficult it is to heal them, how great the pity and sympathy deserved by the sinner; these are the sentiments that will help to remove the mote from our brother’s eye ― through sympathy, patience, example, long-suffering, love.

If we are truly sincere in seeking to help our erring brethren, St. John Chrysostom has a great deal of sound advice on this matter in his 23rd Homily on the Gospel of St. Matthew and on his 2nd Homily on II Timothy. The small effort needed to read them is worth our while.

But, as we said at the beginning, which of us wants to believe that he is sick or has lost his wits? And so, we, the derailed in mind, continuously and mindlessly deride the deranged of the world, i.e., our brothers and sisters.

This is what we find in The Paradise of the Fathers:

A certain brother committed an offence in Scete, the camp of the monks, and when a congregation was assembled on this matter, they sent after Abba Moses, but he refused to come; then they sent the priest of the church to him, saying, “Come, for all the people are expecting you,” and he rose up and came. And he took a basket with a hole in it and filled it with sand, and carried it on his shoulders, and those who went out to meet him said to him, “What does this mean, father?” And he said to them, “The sands are my sins which are running down behind me and I cannot see them, and I, even I, have come this day to judge shortcomings which are not mine.” And when they heard this, they set free that brother and said nothing further to him.1

St. Maximos the Confessor (+ 662) talks about the sad state of “Christian” society in his time. He says:

Men have given up weeping for their own sins and have taken judgment away from the Son of God. They themselves judge and condemn one another as if they were sinless. “Heaven was amazed at this” (Jer. 2:12, LXX) and earth shuddered, but men in their obduracy are not ashamed. (Third Century on Love, 54)

About a century earlier, St. Dorotheos of Gaza (c. 570) had this to say:

Without any discretion, we the wretches condemn, despise, or disparage whatever we see, or hear, or suspect. And what is worse, we do not limit this harm to ourselves, but we proceed further. We meet a brother, and straightway we tell him, “This and that happened.” Thus, we harm both ourselves and the other when we implant sin in his heart. You see, we do not fear Him Who said, “Woe to him that gives his neighbor to drink thick dregs2 of wine,” (Abb. 2:15), but, without any concern, we do the work of the devil. Does the devil have anything else to do except to cause trouble and harm? Behold, therefore, how we too, by our conduct, become fellow workers with the demons, not only to our perdition, but also to our neighbor’s. Whoever harms a soul becomes a colleague and helper of the demons. (Diverse Teachings to the Disciples, VI, 75)

The list of such spiritual and patristic writings concerning the condemnation of others could go on and on. This is because this sin is so common. But this is no excuse for us personally.

People justify themselves of this sin, not because they think it is evil, but because they think it is good! If they truly believed that this sin caused them harm, not only would they not be indifferent to it, but they would certainly not attempt to justify it. The only thing they would try to do is to rid themselves of it.

St. John of the Ladder also has something to say in this matter:

I have seen some committing the gravest sins in secret and without exposure; and in their supposed purity, they have harshly inveighed against persons who have a fall in public. To judge others is a shameless arrogation of the Divine prerogative; to condemn is the ruin of one’s soul.

(Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 10:13–14)3

If we hope to escape God’s judgment, we must remember “The Loophole” Christ gave us:

“Judge not that ye be not judged.” (Matt. 7:1)



St. Cyril of Alexandria

[The Pharisee speaks:] “I am not,” he says, “as the rest of mankind.” Moderate yourself, O Pharisee: “Set a watch before thy mouth, and a door of enclosure round about thy lips” (cf. Ps. 140:3).

You speak to God Who knows all things. Await the decree of the Judge. None of those skilled in the practice of wrestling ever crowns himself; nor does any man receive the crown from himself, but awaits the summons of the arbiter. Lower your pride, for arrogance is both accursed and hated by God. Although, therefore, you fast with puffed up mind, your so doing will not avail you; your labor will be unrewarded; for you have mingled dung with your perfume. Even according to the law of Moses, a sacrifice that had a blemish was not to be offered to God; for it was said unto him, “Of sheep, and ox, that are offered for sacrifice, there must be no blemish therein” (Lev. 22:21). Since, therefore, your fasting is accompanied by pride, you must expect to hear God saying, “This is not the fast that I have chosen” (cf. Es. 58:5) …You offer tithes, but you wrong in another way Him Who is honored by you, in that you condemn men generally. This is an act foreign to the mind that fears God.4


1. The Paradise of the Fathers, Vol. II, St. Nectarios Press, Seattle, 1974, p. 122. 2

2. “Dregs” in a figurative sense, i.e. the refuse.

3. One should read the entirety of Step 10 of The Ladder of Divine Ascent for a full description of this particular sin and how it can be healed. Another fine text on this subject is in Dorotheos of Gaza—Discourses and Sayings, trans. by Eric P. Wheeler, Cistercian Publications, Kalamazoo, MI, 1977, pp. 131–139.

4. St. Cyril of Alexandria. On the Gospel of Saint Luke, Homily 120, Studion Publishers, New York, 1983, pp. 480–481.