Don’t Judge!

Christ and the Sinner Woman by Vasily Polenov. 1888. Christ and the Sinner Woman by Vasily Polenov. 1888.

I urge you not to judge anybody, it is the easiest way of not being condemned at the Last Judgment.

From The Spiritual Letters of Igumen Nikon (Vorobiev; +1963)

All of us are well aware of the commandment from the Gospel, Judge not, and ye shall not be judged (Lk. 6:37). But we know by our life experience that it is this commandment that we break most often. We mostly focus our attention on the lives and actions of other people all the time. The last thing we want is to keep vigilant watch over ourselves. We tend to see the faults of others from the judge’s point of view and see our own sins from the lawyer’s point of view. It is more interesting to analyze somebody else’s behavior and judge him: not only the majority of non-believers, but also most of believers devote much time to this.

Let me cite an example. Absolutely different people are standing in line for confession, each waiting for his turn. Most of them are elderly, though some are young. An old lady comes up to the priest and moves aside very soon. She is followed by a young and attractive woman. And the priest hears her confession much longer. The people in the queue begin to think automatically: “She is a good-looking young lady, so our batiushka is captivated by her! After all, that is natural and happens to everybody…” But the reason was different. The lady in question had a speech defect, she stammered (and, thus, worried) and it took her a lot of time to enumerate all her sins. This is why the confession was slow and “dragged on”. Nevertheless, some people were quick to judge the priest.

A negative experience is necessary for people and can often be useful. Knowing his mistakes, a Christian comes to realize his imperfection and inability to have a true understanding of somebody else’s life. He becomes convinced that he can be wrong. For an honest person mistakes are essential: they teach him humility and help him struggle with the sin of judging others.

The sin of judging is often present in family life, among close relatives—in a word, among those we love most. I recently heard the following story from someone. One woman brought two big and beautiful apples for her daughter. The girl was very pleased; she took both apples into her hands and took a bite out of one of them first. The mother waited for the little daughter to share the other apple with her. But the girl bit into the second apple instead. Then tears appeared in the woman’s eyes: she so wanted her child to be loving and thoughtful. She thought that she had proved unable to raise a caring and compassionate daughter. However, the mother was too quick to judge her child. Having swallowed the second bite, the girl gave her mother one of the bitten apples and said, “Mommy! Take this apple, please! It is sweeter than the other one!” This story from real life teaches us not to leap to conclusions and judge others “too swiftly”, but, instead, to do our best to bear… one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2) with patience. Man is a changeable creature, so we must hope that the best qualities of our souls will certainly show themselves sooner or later.

In our struggle with the sin of judging it is necessary to control our thoughts. We need a special spiritual “filter” which will “filter out” all that is sinful and impure—all the things that penetrate into our souls and begin to affect them through thoughts and feelings. I mean paying attention to our inner lives and, most importantly, distrusting our own thoughts. “Don’t believe yourself”—it is the golden rule of ascetic life. Very many Christians have observed it and achieved holiness through this practice. Don’t believe the thoughts that portray other people negatively and lead to the sin of judging! You have to make a great deal of effort to turn a blind eye to other people’s shortcomings and see only the best qualities in them. St. Paisios of Mt. Athos referred to this kind of spiritual labor as to “developing positive and good thoughts”.

Let me illustrate the above with a famous example showing how one and the same person was seen from three different perspectives. Once three brothers saw a lone traveler in the field at night. “He is surely a thief and is going to rob somebody in the middle of the night,” the first brother thought. “This man must be lecherous. He is going to have a rendezvous with some woman,” the second brother decided. “This wayfarer must be walking towards a neighboring town with a large monastery in order to celebrate a Christian feast at church in the morning,” the third brother said quietly to himself. It is crystal clear that each of them measured the traveler by his own measure (see Mt. 7:2). The same thing happens in our spiritual and everyday lives when we appraise, judge the actions of people around us and trust our thoughts.

Not only in big cities, but also in small towns we often see people who are drunk, ill-clad and begging. These people have become “the scum of society”—they lost their jobs, were forgotten by their own children and betrayed by their beloved spouses… On top of that, there are also those who receive compulsory treatment, have a police record, live as tramps, and serve their long prison sentences. They live in the sea of despair and are often on the verge of suicide. Some of them do take this final, fatal step… Can we really condemn them? Do we have any right to do it? The obvious answer springs to mind: No, on no account! As people who lived in olden times used to say, before judging or rebuking somebody first “put on his shoes”, walk his path, “stumble” over all the “stones” that were on his way, and endure all the hardships that he has borne! Beyond all doubt after that we won’t want to denounce the person who seemed to be guilty of all sorts of crimes a minute ago.

According to an account given by Abba Dorotheus1, once slave traders sold two little girls to two different women. One girl was bought by a pious widow, while the other one was bought by a harlot. Each of them brought up her adopted daughter in her own way. The widow raised her girl in the fear of God and piety, whereas the prostitute taught her girl lechery and inculcated a sinful lifestyle in her. And a mystery of the Lord is before us. Who can explain it? The first young lady got to know God and life eternal, while the second one never saw or heard anything good, surrounded only by vice and corruption. How can these two girls be judged by the same judgment?

The sin of judging others is closely connected with curiosity. We shouldn’t be so curious to know the details of other people’s lives and shouldn’t waste our inner strength and energy. Curiosity always begets confusion because of somebody else’s life, and thus we inevitably lose our peace of mind. Seeing “a better life” will first lead to envy which is defined to be a grievance and sorrow for the prosperity of others. Then envy gives rise to the sin of judging. Look at the people who judge nobody closely: they live strict and undistracted lives. They are not curious about their neighbors’ lives and try to see neither faults nor success of those around them. We are too weak to rejoice with them that do rejoice (see Rom. 12:15), as Apostle Paul instructed. In most cases we envy someone else’s joy and prosperity. Meanwhile, very few of us cover our neighbors’ shortcomings with generosity—many of us begin to judge others. So we arrive at a right conclusion: we need to hold our senses (especially vision and hearing) on a leash, restrain curiosity and try not to tittle-tattle about other people’s lives.

I offer you a story confirming the truth of what has just been said. One family had to change their residence. Having moved to a new neighborhood, the wife nevertheless did not give up her old habit—staring out of the window for hours. One day she looked out of the window and to her surprise saw that her neighbor had hung an absolutely dirty laundry outside. That seemed very odd to her and the woman judged her “lazy” and “untidy” neighbor. The same thing repeated for several days in succession: the neighbor hung a dirty laundry in the yard again and again which provoked the woman’s annoyance. At length, in one sunny day the woman looked out of the window and exclaimed to her husband, “Look, at last I see an absolutely clean laundry in our neighbors’ yard! Apparently she has learned to wash!” But the husband answered sadly, “Today I got up early in the morning and cleaned our windows properly!”

It would be so wonderful if not the slightest words of condemnation of even the most wicked people came from Christian mouths. “Justify everyone”—the old Jewish wisdom proclaims. It means that you shouldn’t try to confirm your suspicions of one or another person; rather, you need to try your best to understand him and justify him in your heart.

If we strive to put it into practice, then the sin of judging will grow weaker in our souls. This passion will stop tormenting us. The suffering caused by this passion will end. The Gospel’s commandment that tells us not to judge others, like any other commandment, is capable of giving us inner peace and spiritual joy provided we are careful to observe them. Obedience to the commandment through self-restraint (self-control) is always a little victory over ourselves, and victories like this are possible only through co-working with Christ, Who is ever close to us. Otherwise we will have to taste the bitter fruit of our lack of faith in God and suffer just as children who disobey their parents suffer.

In conclusion I want to share a story from my childhood with our readers. One hot summer day our good neighbor whom we called uncle Sasha [a diminutive form of the name Alexander in Russia] drove up to the entrance of our house. He used to take us children on his motorcycle with a sidecar attached to it for a ride. Uncle Sasha pointed at the exhaust pipe shining in the sun and said to me gently, “Don’t touch it, it is extremely hot!” But he had scarcely come into the house when I ran up to the motorbike and touched the exhaust with my bare foot. Having immediately burned myself on contact with the hot metal, I began to “jump up and down” and rushed headlong back into the house.

So here is the question: Had I a right to blame anybody else for my burn? I was warned very clearly, “Don’t touch it or else it will hurt you.” And that’s what happened. If a violation of laws of the physical world leads directly to a physical pain, then a violation of spiritual laws causes damage to and brings negative consequences for our immortal souls. And each of us has only one soul. These words concern the sin of judging others, with which we will struggle with the help of God.

Archpriest Andrei Ovchinnikov
Translated by Dmitry Lapa


1 See Abba Dorotheus, The Sixth Instruction. That We Should Not Judge Our Neighbor.
Anthony2/20/2018 9:00 pm
Hi all! And not forgetting the most instructive story. A monk was negligent about everything in his monastic rule his entire life. At his death bed, he (rejoiced!) Why??? the dearly beloved reader will ask themself, quite perplexed. Indeed, the monks too were puzzled and asked him why he, a negligent sinner was so happy. After all, he was headed for hell in a basket. In response to the enquiring monks, the negligent monk responded: ''My whole life I was negligent, but I was also careful never to judge anyone else. Christ Himself says: Judge not that ye may not be judged. So I was careful in one respect not to judge, and I shall respond to Christ that he must not judge me!'' Rejoice!
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