Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Everyone's a Critic
WE ALL HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY.
In this past Sunday's gospel reading from the Coptic Lectionary, our Lord gave an illustration involving a man who began to build and those who were there to rip on him when he didn't continue(1).
So, what makes us such big critics anyway? Elder Ephraim of Philotheou writes that the main reason for criticism and slander is pride and egotism. We think we're better than others. So, he recommends that a person to think of himself as smaller than all. The idea is that when we see another person as better, we might, with the help of God, be delivered from the evil of being such a critic.(2)
Of course, sometimes a person will say or do something that makes one want to run his mouth right away. Elder Ephraim advises that, if something pushes you to criticism about some business or other of a brother, try to pray about it first before passing judgment(3).
This isn't easy, though. How do we train ourselves in this right attitude? The elder writes, "If you are enclosed within yourself through prayer, humility, and mourning, you will find a spiritual treasure; only let pride and criticism be far from you."(4)
Another thing to keep in mind is this: Who really is perfect? Which of us can boast that we have kept our heart undefiled? The elder notes, "We are all sick, but whoever criticizes his brother does not feel that he is sick; for a sick person does not criticize a sick person."(5)
A thing that strikes me, time and again, is that we can, in fact, grieve the heart of God: "God is grieved whenever we criticize and loathe people. Let us concern ourselves only with our own faults, for these let us feel pain; let us criticize ourselves and then we will find mercy and grace from God."(6)
And I have a lot to lose. In fact, "one who judges and scandalizes his neighbor must know that he will find no grace, and if he has any he will lose it, in order to learn the lesson of humility through misfortune"(7). God may have to let me fall smack on my face.
This is a better fate, though, than drinking that most bitter drink: The elder warns us to be more afraid of interior criticism, criticism in thought. He reasons that this kind of silent despising is not brought to light. No one can hear us trash talking and call us out on it. This inner criticism - this feeling that people are not even worth fighting with, that they are beneath me - it drowns me in the most bitter drink, the death of the soul.(8)
Thus, the elder pushes us to "[l]ove, endure, overlook, do not get angry, do not become irritated, forgive one another, in order that you resemble our Christ and are counted worthy to be near to Him in His kingdom."(9)
(1)Luke 14:25-35, Third Sunday of Hator of the Nativity fast
(2)-(9)Counsels from the Holy Mountain: Selected from the Letters and Homilies of Elder Ephraim