Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

Genesis. Lecture 13 (7)

6 June 1966
Theme: The Old Testament, Creation of the world, The fall   Place: London Parish   Period: 1966-1970   Genre: Talk

I think we should now stop and think and ask ourselves how evil should be dealt with. First of all I think it is clear from the discussions which we have had, that what we call evil in colloquial speech, what we perceive as evil, is a secondary step in the development of it. The acts of violence, the acts of cruelty, all the forms of evil find expression through men and are seated much deeper than the action, in the heart, in the will, in the mind of men. Our struggle against evil should therefore be directed to the citadel of evil, to use the words of Christ, to the heart of man and not simply against its consequences which is evil-doing in all the ways in which evil expresses itself.

The other thing to which I believe we have come, although I may misinterpret partly what we have come to, is that evil should never be confused, by the person who is the victim of it, (at the same time as the evil-doer). There is a problem of evil and of its overcoming which should not, I believe, be confused with dealing with the person who commits an act of violence or acts in an evil way. This is what we see so clearly in the story of Cain and his short dialogue with the Lord. The Lord does not attack evil in his person. The Lord does not destroy evil by destroying Cain. The Lord puts a sign on the forehead of Cain to protect him as a person against this confusion between him who originated the act of violence and the violence and the evil which is underlying the acts.

In a way we find the same situation in the Book of Job: the fact that there is a dialogue between the adversary, Satan, and the Lord, points to the fact that here again the Lord does not consider that evil is identical with the one who is the bearer or the doer of evil: He can have a dialogue with his adversary while lie is at work throughout human history for the de­struction and the overcoming of evil. I remind you of a phrase of Lossky which I have already noted here, that if on a certain level, that of our human destiny, of the historical becoming of man and mankind, Satan is the adversary of God, he is not his equal. He is His adversary because he opposes Him, but man can also be termed the adversary of God, and the same word “Satan” can be used about him. Remember the short poignant dialogue which occurs on the way between Caesarea Philippi and Jerusalem when Peter has confessed that Jesus is Christ, the Son of God, and when immediately afterwards, when he has heard from the Lord of the coming suffering, he begs Him to be merciful to himself. Then the Lord turns to Peter and says, `Get thee behind me, Satan,’ the same word which characterises the other adversary, the one who stands in the way of God, the one who refuses to share his wisdom and thoughts. The one who rejects his will finds himself in the position of Satan, of an adversary. And to come back to the quotation of Lossky, what he says is this: although in the human situation Satan is God’s adversary, he still remains for God one of his creatures, and although there is a merciless fight for the salvation of men between God and the adversary, there is a problem of Satan and a problem of God for Satan which is not identical with the defeat of Satan on the level of the destiny of mankind: Satan remains a creature, there is a destiny of Satan, as there is a destiny of man. That I think is very important for us to remember, although we have no ground or no ways of finding out anything about this relationship: the one who for our point of view is the evil one is not equal in terms of evil to the One who is all good. There is no common measure between good as identical with God and evil as simply overlapping with the adversary.

And so, if we wish to have a line of conduct and an understanding of how to tackle the problem of evil we must first and ultimately turn to the One who knows what evil is and who deals with evil while He saves its victims. And the first victim of evil is the one who does evil, the one who becomes the bearer of evil. I have already said that the confusion that we allow in our mind between him and evil is not there in the way in which we see the dealings of God. There is also something else. God is active in this fight against evil, He is active throughout history. Throughout history He calls witnesses of good and of truth, throughout history He finds witnesses who will be bearers of the faith and who will express the divine wisdom.

And at a certain point of history loveie (?) enters into the becoming of man, lie becomes part of human historical destiny in order finally both to overcome evil and to show us how this evil is to be overcome. I have said that the first place where evil is to be overcome is in our own heart. When we respond to evil by evil, to hatred by hatred, to anger by anger, to cruelty by cruelty, to violence by violence, when we allow these attitudes of mind, these feelings, these impulses to rule us, whatever we do about the evil which we are confronted with, we participate in its energies, participate in its essential being. So that to defeat evil by evil does not solve the problem: it increases it. Courage shown because of hatred, determination shown because of resentment, all these things only increase the sum total of evil remove the accidental expression and increase the sum total of the destructive power.

This is why throughout Christian history, ever since Christ called us, we are reminded that all evil impulses and thoughts and intentions and movements spring from the heart. People who have taken earnestly the words of God have fought ascetically for purity of heart, and to attain it have worked for what the ascetical terminology of ancient days called passionlessness, impassibility, if we use this word in its original meaning, not with the meaning of indifference but as meaning that a person never is a passive agent, never is passively acted upon, never can be moved or brought into motion irrationally by blind impulses inside or by beguilement-arousing impulses. The aim of impassibility was to become supremely active, to cease to be at the mercy of things external and internal, to acquire such insight and awareness that with clarity of mind, with purity of heart, with a strong, powerful and yet perfectly obedient will the man should be able to act, not according to the accidents of life, but according to conformity with its deepest calling, with its true nature, with the divine will, not seen as the will of the strong, opposed to one’s own will, the will of the weak, but as recognised as the perfect expression for us of our vocation and of our true volition if we are free from slavery from passivity. This has led through the centuries to an ascetical effort both of mind and of body, to an effort to overcome all that in us is inertia, all that can be acted upon without resistance and without our cognizance, all that could not become part of the sovereign freedom which true obedience offers us. This was a life of discipline, but not in the debased sense again in which we use this word so constantly, but in the sense if discipleship, the attitude of people who earnestly have wanted and determined to become disciples of God Himself, revealing in Christ all the magnitude and all the perfect beauty of human calling and of the human nature, and who therefore have decided to become attentive, to lend an ear to listen intently to what God says about themselves first of all and Himself. This is the very meaning of the word obedience, listening, and in the listening, self-will, self-centredness, was overcome because the moment you listen you move the center of gravity of your life outside yourself. : That happens physically when you listen in order to hear a noise outside; this happens also when we intently listen to what God says or may say. In Him is the centre of gravity; in us there is an openness, a vacancy ready to be filled with the Word that will resound and come down to us. This requires stilling of the senses, this requires stillness of mind, this requires stability of all our being and all this is to be achieved at great pain, with difficulty using all one’s determination and all one’s longing to become truly oneself free from the slavery of slaves into the freedom of the children of God, the sovereign freedom of the children of God. Blessed are the pure in heart: they shall see God. This was the purity of heart which people aimed at and which they achieved by becoming free from passivity, free from inertia, free from self, and which coincided with the ability to respond freely, knowingly, power­fully to the impulses, the true impulses of one’s own being as expressed by God and as perceived deeper than the incidental occasional impulses of our inert life. And this resulted also in the overcoming of evil on several levels, first of all within oneself, secondly in the person of the tempter, of the adversary of God, defeated, rejected, overcome, and also not always but at times, in the person of other people who were connected with this fight against evil. We can see throughout the lives of saints and throughout the lives of people around us how the purity of one can become the purity of another, how the truth which is in one can be shared by others, how all the forms of true life can shine out, can conquer those who are around us. Remember again this phrase of St Seraphim of Sarov: `Acquire peace, and thousands will be saved around you.’ This is one aspect of the question of the overcoming of evil within us, with the consequences of this conquest and victory for those who are close at hand. There is another point to it, through, which we find in the life of Christ, which we find also in the life of people saintly or ordi­nary, saints glorified in witness by God and saints of God who have the privilege to remain still unknown. Evil was finally totally defeated in Christ. Remember the temptation, Christ filled with the Holy Spirit, who was about to begin the work of salvation of the world, was tempted in His strength and in His might: `If thou art the Son of God do this, and give evidence.’ And He refuses the temptation by power and by strength and by might. But the Gospel says that after this third attempt the Tempter left Christ `until later’. When is this moment `later?’ It may not be possible to define this moment clearly simply as a unique moment, but is it not striking that Christ, speaking to Peter who was begging Him to be merciful to Himself, to take into consideration His human frailty and weakness, the greatness of the suffering that was coming to Him, the horror of the death that was to be His fate, that Christ uses exactly the same words He used before on the 40th day of His temptation: `Get behind me, Satan’. This was the beginning perhaps but the definite clear beginning of the new temptation of the Son of God, no longer by might and by power, but by human frailty, by this human nature which Christ had assumed Himself to save us: the coming death, the coming suffering, the coming horror of Passion Week, the coming dereliction in the Garden of Gethsemane, the coming final dereliction on the Cross when the Lord says, `My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?’ Christ overcame the temptation of power. He overcame the anguish of the man confronted with coming suffering and coming death and He overcame something else also, or rather this victory over both might and weakness expresses itself also in the final victory in the perfect expression of the victory of love when lie was dying. His last words were; “Forgive them, Father, they do not know what they are doing.” Love un­defeated, purpose fulfilled. God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son that the world might be saved and the world was saved not only because He died on the Cross, but because love remained undefeated, the love of the Father did not flicker in the dying Son, it found perfect blinding expression in this final word of victory since Christ died this has become and has been throughout history the Sign of the Christians.

In the beginning of the Gospel according to St. Matthew the Lord says that our love should be greater than that of others, everyone can love back those who already love him, everyone can love in the way in which one invests some­thing in order to reap fruits and interest. This anyone can do; the love of the Christian must be that of the Father who shines his sun over those who are evil and ungrateful, Who does good to those who are evil and ungrateful. This we find in the total life of the Lord and this is the demarcation line between the Christian and non-Christian. All those who have not yet learned this should think themselves, whatever their stage, whether baptised or not, whether with an old parentage of centuries of Christendom behind them or not, think of themselves as being still in a pre-Christian period of life: We are learners but we have not yet learned. And throughout the ages people were found who had learned this love, the criterion love of the Christians, the love of one’s enemy, the ability to be so free of self that one cannot pass a judge­ment on others because of their attitude to oneself, but can see them object­ively although not as objects, distancing himself from them enough to be free from passion and capable of seeing them as a whole with all their destiny, with all their tragedy and enter with them into the relationship of compassion, of sympathy which is basic to every true relationship. St Paul, in the Epistle to the Corinthians, tells us that even if we gave our bodies to be burnt, even if we gave our lives, but were not possessed of love, it would be in vain. This is the important thing. In all this problem of good and evil, of our fight against it, whenever our love is defeated, defeated is also good through us and in us, and evil has overcome. Very often we cannot see this because we are very blind to the state of our own heart and very often, seeing no direct result, we imagine that evil triumphs and good is defeated. Christ tells us that if someone hits us on one cheek, we should turn the other one. But what we implicitly read in this passage is that in response to this act of humility, of this act according to the will of God, we should immediately see the result. First of all we should not be hit a second time and secondly the one who hit us first, amazed at our greatness, should immediately turn into a friend of ours. And here we make a cascade of confusions, the last being that we imagine that to be a friends of ours means to be a friend of God and to have entered at once into the realm of good. But Christ never promised us any such things. He says only that if we are hit on one cheek we should turn the other, without resentment, without hatred, without violence in our response. If we are hit again and can receive it in the same spirit, the one who hit may imagine that he has won a victory, but the adversary has been wounded and defeated irremedi­ably. Remember what Christ says, `The Prince of this world is coming near, but there is nothing in me that belongs to him.’ If in all possible ways in which we are hit on the cheek, physically and morally, from within and from without, we can act this way, then indeed one day may come when we will be quite near this very saying, because everything which is of the prince of this world, everything that belongs to him, everything that he could possess in time or in eternity, is removed, and there is no such thing in us, there is nothing left of the adversary in us. This victory over evil is more essential than any outer result, which does not mean that we must not aim also at outer results, and which does not preclude completely the necessity to look, at times, for outer results although we are aware that we are not capable of achieving either final results or perfect results, being what we are. If we could heal morally a criminal we would not keep him in prison, but the fact that we are not capable of healing him morally does not imply that nothing should be done, but as long as we, individually or as a society, add to sanction, hatred, we are below the mark, we are not capable of solving the problem even if we attach to it all our intelligence… Well, I think this is enough as an introduction to the possible discussion…

Answers to Questions:

…What we know for sure, if we accept Satan as someone, is that he is profoundly evil. I would not say that there is anything which is identical with evil itself… Shall I say that for me it is someone definite, if you wish to call that a person or a being I do not know, but it is someone: it is neither something nor an absence of something or someone… He is created, yes,… why I use the word person is that I mean that he is a created something which has got a will and can be evil, because you cannot be evil if you are a stone. You may say that it is very evil that avalanches destroy, but you cannot accuse the avalanche of anything at all. So what I mean when I use my vocabulary is that the created X has a will, a creative activity, that this creative activity be destructive, an activity willed and directed by him which means also a mind, and I cannot go farther because I have a very primitive image of things, but there is no reason why you should be as primitive as I. But that at least I would stick to, because otherwise I do not see why, how one could speak of evil.

…If we could say that a being is evil itself it would posit evil in front of God, a created evil, but still an evil which God cannot be rid of in any possible way…

…There is a folkloric story about a saint of Novgorod. He was sleeping on his mat one morning and heard a strange noise in his wash basin, so he got up, came near and saw that a devil was bathing. So he took his Crucifix and shut the basin like this, so that the 4 branches of the Cross rested on the basin and the poor devil could not budge in the water, with just his nose and his ears out. And then he asked to be released, but the saint would not. He said, `Look, I will let you go if you sing for me the song which you sang when you were an angel’. And the devil said, `I cannot possibly, I do not remember.’ `Well’ said the saint, `it is all right, you sit in the water until you do.’ And as the devil did not like it he began to try, make efforts, to remember, and then he said that he thought he remembered the first words but he could really not produce the tune because in the thousands of years he had been a devil his voice had gone rather hoarse. So the saint said, `That is all right, you start as you can.’ And he began to produce most horrible sounds with words that were quite all right. And so in the beginning he stumbled and the words were confused and were not the right words, and then the right tune. But as he was still sitting in the water and the Cross was not removed, be began to make progress and after a long time and many an attempt, in the end he began to sing quite nicely, and the interesting thing is that as he was progressing in his singing and remembering the words more properly, getting the tune better and better, from very dark black he began to become lighter and lighter until at a certain point he got both the words and the tune perfectly right, and then between the arms of the Cross he just slipped out and flew out.

We always wish for a personal relation with God, a personal explana­tion of what God means at every step, while we discard all He has already revealed and what is either difficult or uninteresting. I think that we know quite a lot about the will of God from the Gospel,- to take these four little books – a great deal indeed. If we began to say: `All right, I will apply all I understand from the Gospel, I will live up to my own understanding, not even to someone else’s understanding, but to what I have understood to date’, we would already have a whole program of the will of God expressed. If we did it, this vision of the will of God concrete, very detailed, very finely ex­pressed in the Gospels, would increase in width and in depth. In the process of experimenting on what the will of God is by action, we would probably discover the taste and the sound of it, so that gradually we would recognise a false note from a note which is not false, things which are coherent with what we already know, some things which fit or clash, some things which are in harmony or are not in harmony… I think there is another thing: we always seem to imagine that in every situation or every occasion, about everything, God has got one will and no alternative; as though if this does not happen, then God’s plan is destroyed, upset, and He has nothing to do about it, while, I believe that in the greatest majority of cases when we have 2 – 3 possible alternatives – I do not mean do the wrong thing or the right thing, but do things which could be better or worse, indifferently good or not according to what we make of them – I think that in the great majority of cases what God needs is not that you should do this particular action, but that you should do whatever you do with an intention as pure as possible in the most perfect way, as unselfishly as you can, with a determined clear will to do what, according to your lights, is the very best you can do. And then we would probably save ourselves a lot of trouble asking ourselves whether God wishes us to do this or that, because He would probably say I do not mind whichever you do, but do it well, do it with clarity of mind, do it with a pure heart, do it with integrity, etc.

About `intuition’, in the process of discovering the mind of God we can develop a sense of things the way in which we develop a good ear or become perceptive to smell or the other things, and we become increasingly capable of discerning things which are attuned or are not attuned with other things which we have already experienced. And then there are the concrete forms of advice which we get in spiritual writers. Addressing themselves to people, they say: `If you have a doubt, go into prayer, as deeply as you can, do it once, do it another time do it again, and when you will have, through this deep effort of prayer, come as deep as you can into your own core, when you will have stilled all emotion or prejudice, or those things which can influence you wrongly because they are centred on you, when you will have, through prayer recentred yourself on God (and when I say 3 times, it is not arithmetic, what I mean is do it again and again until God has become centre and you have become peripheral, and the problem too) and then look at it, and do.’ And when you have taken your decision within the situation of prayer (not within the exercise of prayer) when you are still in this state of prayer, and confront this depth of prayer with your decision, if there is turmoil, if you do not find complete harmony between the decision and your depth of prayer, then leave it. Do it only when you have this sense of complete peace, harmony, joy, etc.

Being granted that we are not free of selfishness, there are moments when within our selfish limits we act well and right, at other moments for some reasons we act even against ourselves or outside and beyond our selfish­ness because there are in us impulses to do the right thing even at our expense. I do not think that the criterion is that it is easy or difficult, we are not altogether and ultimately corrupt, there are things that are right and difficult and we should not aim systematically at doing the distasteful, the difficult, the unpleasant things, imagining that this is righter than doing a thing which can be pleasant. We must do things for their value, except when we want to use something for our own education. But unless you use what you do simply for your ascetical training, you should not have this criterion of easy or difficult, of pleasant or unpleasant.

I do not think you should hate yourself systematically. There are sufficient reasons to hate yourself at a variety of moments without making it a system.

We cannot spend our time asking ourselves, ‘Am I being selfish? Am I not being selfish?’ while we can profitably spend a lot of time asking ourselves `Is it the right thing to do or the wrong one?’ And then do it and if we do it and forget to ask ourselves about selfishness, we may discover that we have grown a little less selfish and certainly less self-centred in the process.

I think that in the ascetical tradition the ideal was that we should never be passive in the sense of which we speak of passive in grammar in the passive voice if acted upon, without our co-operation, without our intentional agreement etc., which does not mean that we cannot, in harmony with something greater then us, abandon ourselves, surrender ourselves: while it is a passive action to be carried away, it is not a passive action to give oneself.

At times we must not be too puritanical and too `spiritual’ and refuse to present to God something which seems to be very small, but which has got great repercussions on our soul and life or someone else’s soul and life. If God can stand us we can stand ourselves. And start at this point: that is what I am and with this material I will try to do the best one can with what I have. In the process the material will probably get refined and improved, at times not; but we cannot spend our time asking ourselves: Am I being selfish, unselfish

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