On the Sunday before the Great Lent, that of Adam’s Expulsion from Paradise, we read a beautiful epistle which reinforced the message of the Gospel (Matthew 6–15), of tending to our souls as a priority.
The Holy Apostle Paul says in the Epistle to the Romans: “And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep” (13.11). Fasting is an awakening from a slumber of habit with matter, with too much comfort, with this world. “For now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly, as in the day [not as we would in the night] not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy” (13.11–13). This is the feasting we are asked to do during fasting. “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts. Receive one who is weak in faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things” (13.14; 14.1). He who is weak in faith is a passionate man as well. Because, as it was said, the church is a hospital. Everyone is ill here. “For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him” (14.2–3).
And the Holy Apostle concludes with this admonition: “Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand” (14.4). The last verse underscores the same principle as the Gospel reading: “But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6.15). Who are we to judge another, even if we are justified because he is wrong?! Who are we?! He is not to answer to us; he has someone else to whom to answer. Here is a practical example to support this: when we see evil around us, in a person, in families, or in society; or a nuisance that persists in our lives, we should know that it is a pedagogy from God, that we may discover the evil within us. We must enlarge our hearts and love the bothersome one as he is. And in this way, we cleanse ourselves of sins. Therefore, anything upsetting should make us realize that there is something lingering within that is unhealed and unclean, for which we have not repented or wept.
And a concrete example, beyond words, is Father Sofian Boghiu. A great father of the twentieth century, a saint. He was in communist prisons, innocent, of course, where insufferable investigators caused all kinds of hardships for the detainees. But Father Sofian had this inner work and said, “I am here for my sins; it is because of my sins I suffer so much evil.” And those were no mere words; Father Arsenie Papacioc used to say that “one was considered less than a worthless rag in there.” The prisoners were beaten with no qualms and were cursed daily. If not physically abused every day, they were at least verbally abused. But Father Sofian had this inner work. It is very easy to start condemning: “How can they be like that?! Such terrible people!” If we go down this path, it will be a never ending one. So Father Sofian chose the path of the gospel and said, “For my sins I am here. These people behave so badly because of my sins …” And he undertook this work so assiduously that even in his sleep he would say: “I am a sinner! I am a sinner!” This, of course, drew extra mockery from the guards and torturers: “Get over here, sinner! …”
But Father Sofian did so precisely so as not to enter into dialogue with the evil indwelling those people. He kept the dialogue with God—it was before Him that he worked his repentance, specifically not to end the dialogue with his Creator and fall into one with evil. In Father Sofian’s work we see par excellence what the Apostle admonishes us today: “Forgive!” And when we begin to forgive and love our enemies, it is a sign that we are cleansing ourselves. Because if we have passions, we have enemies. It is an equivalence! We ought to realize it. When nothing bothers us and we love people, it is a sign that our soul has been cleansed.
May God help us begin this beautiful, spiritual period!