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Not judging others

The habit of speaking ill of others is a great evil and temptation for us. The Lord strictly forbids judging:

"Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye" (Mat. 7:1-5).

We know that spiritual rebirth does not come by itself. It demands strict examination of one’s deeds, thoughts and feelings. It is built on an active improvement of one’s self. A person honestly striving to live as a Christian cannot but notice at times the beginnings of unkind thoughts and sinful desires within himself, which seem as if to originate on their own. By overcoming these internal temptations, he begins to know from personal experience how difficult and tense the struggle with one’s weaknesses is, and how much effort goes into becoming virtuous. For this reason, a true Christian is always meek when he thinks about himself, considers himself a sinner, grieves over his imperfections, and asks God for the forgiveness of his sins and for help to become better. We can see such a sincere realization of one’s imperfection in all truly righteous persons. For instance, the Holy Apostle James wrote that "in many things we offend all" (James 3:2), and the Holy Apostle Paul asserts that the Lord came to save sinners, among whom he is the first. The Holy Apostle John, the Theologian, condemned those who considered themselves to be without sin with the following words: "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (James 3:2; 1 Tim. 1:15; 1 John 1:8). Naturally, a person who is concerned entirely with his own improvement is not curious about the sins of others, and even more, finds no pleasure in their disclosure.

Still, people who only superficially know the teachings of the Gospel and do not live as Christians are often very perceptive of others’ defects, and take pleasure in speaking ill of others. Judging is the first sign of the absence of a true spiritual life in someone. It becomes even worse when the careless sinner, in his spiritual blindness, takes it upon himself to teach others. The Lord asks such a hypocrite: "Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and behold, a beam is in thine own eye? (Mat. 7:4)" The word "beam" can be understood as the absence of spiritual sensitivity in the person judging — his spiritual coarseness. If he took care to cleanse his own soul, and knew the full difficulties of the righteous path through his own experience, he would not then dare to offer another his pitiful services. For it is not characteristic of a sick person to take on the healing of others!

Thus, in the words of the Lord, the absence of spiritual sensitivity is worse than other defects, as much as a beam is heavier than a mote, or a speck. A similar spiritual blindness is found among the Judean leaders in the time of the earthly life of the Saviour — the scribes and the Pharisees. Mercilessly judging others, they considered only themselves to be righteous. They found defects even in Christ, publicly condemning Him for such things as violating the Sabbath and eating with publicans and sinners. They did not understand that the Lord did these things for the salvation of all people. The scribes and Pharisees were scrupulously concerned with all sorts of ritualistic minutiae — the ritualistic cleansing of dishes and furniture, the payment of tithes of mint and anise; at the same time, without any pangs of conscience, they hypocritically hated and judged other people (see the 23rd chapter of Matthew). When they had reached a state of total blindness, they condemned the Saviour of the world to death on the Cross, then slandered His resurrection from death before the nation. And all throughout this time, they continued to go to the Temple, flauntingly praying at length! It is therefore not surprising to find that now, as before, similar self-satisfied hypocrites find reasons to judge others.

The Apostle James explains that the right to judge belongs to God alone. He is the only Lawgiver and Judge. Without exception, all people, being sinners in various stages, appear as His debtors. For this reason, a person judging others appropriates the role of the judge and sins greatly in doing so (James 4:11). The Lord says that the more strictly a person judges others, the more strictly will God judge him.

The habit of judging others has deep roots in modern society. Often parishioners, who are holding the most innocent discussion about some subject, fall into the trap of judging each other. One must remember that sin is spiritual poison. People who work with poisons are always in danger of being poisoned, whether by careless contact or inhalation of its vapors; similarly, people who are fond of sifting through the defects of their familiars come into contact with spiritual poison, poisoning themselves. It is not surprising, therefore, that they gradually become permeated with the same evil which they judge. The holy monk Mark the Ascetic admonished, "Do not desire to hear of strangers’ trickeries, because then the outlines of those trickeries are written in us." To people living at a high spiritual level, St. Mark recommended feeling sympathy for those who had not yet reached such a high measure of spirituality. This sympathy, or understanding, according to his words, is essential for preserving the wholeness of one’s personal spiritual order: "One having any spiritual gift and being compassionate for those without, with this compassion preserves his gift" (Dobrotolubie, vol.1). The great Russian saint, the holy monk St. Seraphim of Sarov, greeted all who came to him with the words: "My joy!" But he called himself only "wretched Seraphim." Here is the true Christian attitude!

In forbidding judgment, the Lord further explains that not being judgmental is not the same as being indifferent toward evil and toward one's surroundings. The Lord does not want us to be indifferent toward sinful customs in our surroundings, nor for us to give sinners equal entry to holy places along with the righteous. The Lord says "Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you" (Mat. 7:6) Here the Lord calls those people dogs and swine who are morally degraded, becoming vulgar and incapable of correction. A Christian must be wary of such people: they must not reveal the deep truths of the Christian faith to them; they must not allow them access to the sacraments of the Church. Otherwise they will deride this sanctity and desecrate it. Likewise, they should not share their secret tribulations with cynical people, nor reveal their soul before them, according to the expression of the Saviour, "lest they trample them [i.e., our secrets] under their feet, and turn again and rend you" (Mat. 7:6). Thus, in this part of the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord warns us against two extremes: indifference toward evil and judgment of others.

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