Audio length: 10:10 minutes
Anything that separates us from God is bad no matter how big or small it is in our eyes. The most difficult sins to uproot are those we keep covered up in darkness because we are reluctant, for whatever reason, to expose them to the Light, which is Christ.
“… have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret. But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light.”
The Leveson Enquiry into Press Ethics has brought into the light, the dark and hidden arts of phone hacking hitherto practised with impunity by more disreputable elements in the tabloid press. Of course it was the Milly Dowler affair that shocked the nation and led even Rupert Murdoch to declare that this had been a profoundly humbling experience for him. We shall perhaps never know just how many people’s telephone conversations and emails have been hacked over the years and those who have experienced this sort of thing rightly describe themselves as having been violated. All these sins of course, by their very nature are practised undercover, in the dark, but now they have been exposed, they have seen the light of day.
We could multiply examples from public life in all sectors where hiddenness and secrecy in sin have led to great suffering amongst victims. In recent weeks such alleged sexual predators as Jimmy Savile and Cyril Smith have had their reported evil deeds exposed for all to see, but sadly for the victims, too late beyond their deaths for effective redress. That these men were able to carry on so long with their evil ways is entirely due to a culture of secrecy and denial that protected them in the light of their celebrity status. We know how this culture of secrecy and cover up was adopted to avoid bad publicity and lawsuits, prompting even some religious leaders to turn a blind eye to clerical sexual abuse. However, secret sins do not always lead to evident suffering. The fiddling of Parliamentary expenses ultimately harmed the taxpayer I suppose, but the culture of secrecy played its part there as well and we have the freedom of the press to thank for the fact that these sins of MPs were also eventually exposed.
Now at this point we might sit back and congratulate ourselves, addressing God as the Publican and saying:- “God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.” (Luke 18:11b-12)
I think we can all guess what’s wrong with that sort of attitude, or at least I hope we can. As the monk Thomas Merton entitled one of his books, there are no ‘innocent bystanders.’ Nor can we take that typically English way out by indulging in a little false modesty. You know the sort of thing, “Oh me, I am not too bad, not too good, middling really.” Anything that separates us from God is bad no matter how big or small it is in our eyes. So, none of us here is free from sin, and the most difficult sins to uproot are those we keep covered up in darkness because we are reluctant, for whatever reason, to expose them to the Light, which is Christ. Only by so doing can we be released from their grip.
“Your sins will find you out” as the saying goes … if not in this life then in the life to come, but by then it will be too late. So we had better do something about this now for if we cannot deal with our own sins, we are certainly not going to be able to address effectively the ills of society. Rebuilding our nation in Orthodox Christian faith and life starts with you and me, here and now … not with enquiries, laws, strategies, educational programmes; good that those might be, true lasting change starts and ends with Christ. Let us explore, therefore, what the fathers say about this passage in order that we might be helped … practically speaking. St. John Chrysostom says in his commentary on Ephesians:-
“What Paul is saying is of this sort. As a wound, so long as it is embedded and concealed, running beneath the surface, it enjoys not a bit of attention, so also sin, as long as it is hidden, being as it were in darkness, is daringly committed with a full license. But as soon as it is made manifest, it becomes light; not indeed the sin itself, (for how could that be?) but the sinner. For when he has been brought into the light, when he has been admonished, when he has repented, when he has obtained pardon, have you not cleared away all his darkness? Have you not then healed his wound? Have you not called forth his unfruitfulness into fruit? Either this is the meaning or else what I said above, that your life being manifest is light. For no one hides an irreproachable life; whereas things which are hidden, are hidden by darkness covering them.”
So, we can know what it takes to walk in the light and not to conceal our sins. It requires courage in order to overcome self-righteous pride, it requires humility to acknowledge specifically wherein we have fallen, and it requires openness in the confessing of our sins to one another and privately before a priest so that nothing might fester in the darkness. Walking like this, in the light, transforms us into the Light, for such is the teaching not only of St John the Evangelist and Theologian but also all the fathers and perhaps pre-eminently St. Symeon the New Theologian. It was he, you will recall, who insisted that when we voluntarily come into the Light and are transformed into that Light (theosis) the sense of who we are and who Christ is alternate rapidly, so complete is the union of our humanity with his consubstantial divine nature. And if that is not “good news” I don’t know what is!
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)