Moral Theology. Chapter 19

The sin of envy and of speaking evil. The virtues of kindness and peacemaking. The responsibility of conquering evil with kindness. The sinfulness of revenge. Anger; The sinfulness of dueling.

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When the Lord spoke with the Apostles about the last times, He said that because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold (Matt. 29:12). This prophecy seems to be fulfilled in our days, the days of mutual estrangement and coldness in relationships. It is especially noticeable now that instead of Christian love and well-wishing, the enemies of the Christian faith implant envy and malevolence in the masses of people. An “envious eye” is numbered by the Savior Himself among the most grievous sins. By its substance, envy is impossible for a man’s Christian frame of mind. In every good family, envy cannot be present, and every member of this family is glad (not envious) of the success of any member. This must also be so in the mutual relations of all Christians as the children of one loving Heavenly Father. And thus, Apostle Paul calls us to not only weep with the grieving, but also to rejoice with the glad in contrast to those who envy the successes of others. In order to free yourself from the feeling of envy, you must remember that our vainglory and egotistical competition lie at the base of this sinful feeling. Usually, people in their egotism are afraid that they will not be “recognized”, will not be given their due, others will be placed higher and so forth. A Christian is afraid of the opposite, is afraid of placing himself higher than others and hurting them.

On a par with envy, a strong enemy of kind relations among people is various kinds of evil-speaking lies, altercations, and quarrels. It is strange that people have become so blunted and blinded that all these sins are dismissed, and they constantly sin by speaking evil, not noticing that they do so. This is What Apostle James says about the sins of the tongue: Behold how great a matter a little fire kindleth; and the tongue is fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell… (Jas. 3:5-6); If any man among you, seem to be religious and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain (Jas. 1:26), The Lord Himself said straightforwardly that, For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned (Matt. 12:37) So dangerous are the sins of the mouth!

The most disgusting form of all the sins, speaking evil must unconditionally be acknowledged to be that shameful and dirty habit towards unprintable expressions with which many Russian people are inflicted. What shame, what disgrace, what abuse of purity and innocence, which the Lord; commands and expects from us. People think that all this is “trifling”, “nothing”, forgetting those terrible words: For thy, words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned”, which have already been cited. And, Does a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? (Jas. 3:11) asks Apostle James. And we either defile our mouths with these disgusting expletives or think that through these same lips fragrant words of pure prayer will flow towards God, and with these same defiled and begrimed lips, we will accept the Holiest of all Holies, the most pure Mysteries of Christ… No, now put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth (Col. 3:8). He who has ears to hear, let him hear!

In contrast to all these sources of mutual maliciousness and quarrels, Christianity summons us towards love of peace and the forgiveness of injuries. Thus, we again come to the commandments of beatitude: Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God (Matt. 5:5–9). A kind person is first of all a simple, unmalicious person, and an unconditional opponent of any kind of egotism. He does not have any self-seeking pleasure or self-interest.

On the contrary, he seeks first, not what he needs for himself, but for others. While the egotists usually represent themselves as a pack of hungry wolves, throwing themselves on their prey, one against the other, taking it away from the other, kind people concede to everyone and help in everything. But what is amazing is that according to the Holy Gospel, their path of behavior is straighter and firmer, for no other than the meek shall inherit the earth, even though they traverse the path of life as sheep among wolves, according to the clear example of the Savior.

Even higher is the virtue of reconciliation. And the reward for it is the highest, and divine, “for they will be called children of God”. A Christian reconciler resembles in his life the first peacemaker—the Son of God, at Whose birth angels sang, “Peace be on earth”. A kind person creates comfort and peace around himself, not irritating others.

A peacemaker strives to spread this atmosphere of peace and good relations as widely as possible and tries to reconcile others. Such a podvig demands great spiritual effort, patience, and readiness to meet cold misunderstanding, ridicule, antagonism, and opposition. But a Christian peacemaker is always ready for everything, as he knows very well that any Christian podvig of kindness is the more precious and highly valued, the more difficulties and opposition he meets.

Indissolubly tied with meekness and peacemaking, according to the Holy Gospel, is gentleness, which must be a distinguishing trait of every Christian. It expresses itself most often in the forgiveness of personal injuries and insults, which our Savior commanded us to do, saying, Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also (Matt. 5:39). In other words, do not answer force with force, but answer evil with kindness. And Apostle Paul explains, If thine enemy hungers, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink…Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good (Matt. 12:20–21). And conversely, if man answers evil with evil, then has become a prisoner of his evil and is conquered by it. (Of course, we are discussing personal injuries here, dealt to a Christian).

We constantly observe in life when a man is insulted by someone he becomes angry and takes revenge. But revenge is unquestionably sinful and inadmissible for a Christian. Beloved, avenge not yourselves, calls Apostle Paul (Rom. 12:19). Revenge is a complete betrayal of the Christian spirit of meekness and forgiveness, showing a lack of Christian love in man. Regarding anger, the situation is slightly different.

The Lord forbade not all anger but “vain” anger. And the Apostle said, Be ye angry and sin not (Eph. 4:26), indicating in this fashion that anger can also not be sinful. The Lord Jesus Christ was Himself angered by the deceit and obstinacy of the Pharisees (Mk. 3:5). In this way, anger can be naturally lawful and justified. St. Nicholas the Wonderworker was ablaze with such anger when he slapped the heretic-blasphemer Arius at the Ecumenical Council. This anger stemmed from a pure source, a fiery jealousy for God’s glory. Anger is sinful when it is unjustified and in vain. This occurs very often, especially when “the truth pricks the eyes” and hits a person’s egotism and self-love. St. John of Kronstadt advises us not to become angry with those who offend our self-love, but to value them as spiritual doctors, opening the wounds of our proud and vainglorious soul. Even further, anger, in its beginning, may become sinful when it purposefully draws a man in as the expression of an unkind heart. Then, man predisposes his heart towards anger and unquestionably sins. The apostle says against this, Let the sun go down upon your wrath (Eph. 4:26). A consciously infamed and prolonged anger may become spiteful, and very alien to the Christian spirit of love.

We already spoke about revenge being inadmissible for a Christian. All the more inadmissible for him is a duel—an absurd vestige of the Middle Ages. It was different in the Middle Ages, when people really believed that God’s Truth will not allow the innocent to suffer, and a duel was viewed as a divine trial. Today we do not have this belief, and the revealed Christian consciousness clearly tells us that the Lord did not give anyone the right to use His judgment in our sinful lifetime. Usually, the duelists think the least about God and are led by an absurd concept of “honor”. As is known, this “honor”, a “feeling of one’s own worth”, “noble pride”, and so forth are essentially the same impious pride and self-elevation that Christianity warns us against. The outcome of a duel, according to public opinion, depends upon the adroitness of the opponent and “blind chance”. In today’s concept of a duel, nothing remains of the idea that the Middle Ages had of the duel.

It is not in vain that the duel is viewed as the hellish entanglement of three sins: taking the law into one’s own hands, murder, and suicide. A duel tries to enforce the law itself because it is an arbitrary business between the duelists. It is murder, because each of the opponents goes to kill the other; and it is suicide because both opponents place themselves before the bullet or sword of the enemy…

Metropolitan Philaret (Voznesensky)
Parish Life, April 2023
St. John the Baptist Cathedral, Washington, DC


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