Key to the Handcuffs

For the last 8 months I’ve been fighting internal anger towards two people.  Since mid-March, I had not prayed nor read anything remotely spiritual.  When I would start to read, the content just rolled right past my eyes and never made it to my brain!  I would toss the book aside in disgust.  I knew that the anger I was harboring, and truth be told – fostering, was blocking my ability to pray.  The bickering in my mind was constant and wearying.  It is a lot of work to be angry.

I saw a link to Met. Jonah’s podcast on a Facebook friend’s wall and filed it in the back of my mind.  It took some effort to find it last week but I did, here “Do not react.  Do not resent.  Keep inner stillness.”  I’ve only listened to Part I but am very glad I did.  It has helped me a lot, bringing to mind what needs to be confessed when I see my spiritual father.

What really rang a gong were these thoughts of Met. Jonah’s:

  • That resentment comes from remembrance of wrongs.
  • A “passion” is an area of life that is out of control that I experience passively.  Thoughts that immediately start flooding our minds.
  • To judge someone is to freeze the image of the person in our mind and label them; allowing ourselves to be controlled by this conceptual image; to cede our mind and our life to the conceptual image we created.  We become a slave to our own thoughts.  The internal conversation we have with the conceptual image of the person who hurt me is nothing more than a fantasy conversation.  It is a delusion.  It is prelest.  It is a conversation with our own inner demon!  We are conversing with judgmentalness.  We are reacting, literally, to a figment of our imagination!

The last bullet point really struck me hard.  How often I have played over and over in my mind past conversations, past decisions made by the person with whom I am angry.  No sooner I’d reach the end of the memory than I’d rewind and replay which only made me angrier and angrier.

Met. Jonah went on to explain that we need to separate the other person’s action from our reaction.  Basically to “untangle his and my sin.”  Ouch, that one hurt.  You mean to tell me that: a.) my reaction, and anger, isn’t justified?; and b.) I sinned in this equation?  Pray tell, where?  Leave it to Met. Jonah to point it out to me.  Geesh.

He went on to say that my

“reaction is still my own….and [I] must take responsibility for it.  Let go of the self-justification.”

There he goes again!

“If we hold on to our resentments and self-justification, then we cannot pray the Lord’s Prayer…forgive us our trespasses as we forgive others who trespass against us.”

“The biggest building block of ego is resentment, which comes from the remembrance of wrongs.”

Okay, now he’s moved on to meddling!  However, he also provided a solution!

“Dealing with our own resentment is to get out of the victim mode and control our thoughts.   It means to forgive.  If we don’t, we are slaves to our own thoughts rather than being freed by forgiveness. “

As I understood what His Grace said, it is that my reaction to whatever it was that the other person did to hurt me, is still MY own and I must take responsibility for it.  I am saying ‘no thanks’ to God when I hang on to my resentment.  He then explained what forgiveness looks like.

“Look at the situation.  Untangle your sins from their sins.  Take responsibility for your sins and confess them.  Then you will be able to see the other as a person; not the conceptual image you have in your mind but the person who is broken.  But it does not mean that you have to restore the relationship with the person that hurt you.  You only need to forgive.  The criterion of our love of god is how much we love the person we despise the most.”

His Grace said that confessing the same sin over and over again is good because each time we confess a different part or aspect of the sin.  That made me feel better actually because my poor spiritual father hears the same thing just about every time I confess!  Met. Jonah said it can take a long time to hack away all of the sin and pain.  He used the metaphor of cutting down a big tree.  You don’t start with the bottom of the tree.  You start at the top and sides, cutting away the small limbs and pieces, eventually and slowly working your way inwards to the bigger boughs and then the trunk.  So it is with hacking away at a deep passion.

This was quite a helpful podcast.  I am working my way through the rest of Part 1 and look forward to Part 2 which deals with inner stillness.  I know I’ll never ‘get there’ but having gotten this far, and tasting the freedom of having the handcuffs removed, has been a blessing.  That freedom is quite tangible.

Glory to God for all things!

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17 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Ian
    Jun 10, 2010 @ 04:47:10

    Just adding again to the list of resources…

    I received a book as part of my SVS Press Club subscription, “Dragon’s Wine and Angel’s Bread: The Teaching of Evagrius Ponticus on Anger and Meekness ” [http://www.svspress.com/product_info.php?products_id=4049&osCsid=1rt4pd91kn5dijdr9ldp872hh2] . I’m only into the second chapter, but it looks like a most useful book.

    My continued prayers, and please remember me, falling and stumbling through anger currently.

  2. Ian
    Jun 01, 2010 @ 11:22:13

    Thank you Philippa; I had read the article Suzanna linked last year; and will give the podcasts a listen as I desperately need to hear it again. I am struggling with it also. My prayers; please remember me also.

    And I echo Mimi’s recommendation of the talk by Fr Abbot Meletios. Other talks can be found here [ http://saintjohnwonderworker.org/Fr_Meletios_2010.html ] and talk 2 is relevant also. He does the “Jottings from a Holy Mountain” on Ancient Faith Radio.

  3. Marsha
    May 31, 2010 @ 04:51:30

    Metropolitan Jonah’s “do not react, do not resent, keep inner stillness” is in printed form as well. There is also a tract written by him when he was “hieromonk Jonah” that utilizes the same stuff, only in shorter and more digestible form called “Forgiveness and Reconciliation”.

    http://strannik.com/watchful_gate/node/31/print
    http://www.antiochian.org/node/18882

  4. Mimi
    May 25, 2010 @ 20:30:45

    I needed to read this, thank you. After my last confession (second verse, same as the first) my priest linked me to this podcast which ties in with it as well. http://dowoca.org/files/events/2008_assemb_addr_Fr_Meletios.mp3

  5. Suzanna
    May 24, 2010 @ 10:14:13

    As regards confessing the same sin over and over again, you must remember that the Holy Orthodox Church is a hospital. That statement has been used so often that I sometimes wonder if the meaning of it has been forgotten. When you are ill, say you have a cold or sinus infection or something. So, you go to a doctor who prescribes medicines for your illness. If you took only the first dose of this medicine, and did not finish the whole regimen, you would never get well. In fact, you would probably make your illness worse. This is the way it is with Confession/Repentance. When you are spiritually ill (as we all are), you do not take only the first “dose” of Confession/Repentance and then expect that you are well. You have to take the whole regimen–which lasts a lifetime. Sometimes, just as with physical illness, we take a series of doses of medicines, get better, and then we over-do before we are strong enough, or we get chilled in a draft and we suffer a relapse of our illness. So it is with spiritual sickness. Sometimes we get to feeling better, and we lay aside our repentance for just a minute, it seems, and something happens and we find we are not as strong as we thought. So we suffer a spiritual relapse of our illness. When we realize our illness, and endeavor to remain in repentance, we are able to heal. This is what the statement means that “our strength is in our weakness.”

  6. Mrs. Mutton
    May 23, 2010 @ 22:00:36

    Suzanna, your words are a keeper for this sinner — thanks so much for them! Athanasia, I want you to know that as painful as your situation is to you, and as embarrassing as it may have been to blog about it — it was a great help to me in my confession this morning, prior to Liturgy, and it will be the foundation for the next in-depth confession I make during this upcoming fasting period. God bless you all, my internet Orthodox friends!

  7. Athanasia
    May 23, 2010 @ 20:05:25

    Suzanna, thanks for your thoughts and providing the link to the pdf of Met. Jonah’s talk. Never doubt what seed may have been planted by something you wrote or spoke about. Also, you later comment has given me much comfort! Thank you for sharing!! Hugs to you!

    DebD, thanks for sharing about Fr. Melittos. I’ve heard a lot about him but have not listened/read any of his stuff. I’ll rectify that soon!

    Meg, too true about the uncreativeness of sin. Met. Jonah’s comment about confessing the same sin was comforting to know that it often is not the same sin but a different/deeper layer. I now don’t feel quite so guilty about saying, “I got angry at …. about…”

  8. Margaret
    May 23, 2010 @ 19:20:04

    Thank you, Suzanna! 🙂

  9. Suzanna
    May 23, 2010 @ 13:20:12

    For those who are more visual than auditory:

    http://www.monasteryofstjohn.org/abbatialessays/Do_not_react.pdf

  10. Margaret
    May 23, 2010 @ 13:11:22

    Yessssssss. Those little bits you’ve reprinted are amazing. I find when I get worked up about something I become paralysed, ie, don’t pray, don’t read my bible and those things are self-perpetuating. I don’t do well with podcasts because of my hearing and I guess they don’t come with transcripts? but I think I will give this one a go. Not getting people and situations ‘frozen’ in my mind is something I truly need to work on.

  11. Suzanna
    May 23, 2010 @ 12:23:01

    When you are sick, you must rest. Sometimes you must isolate yourself from others in order for your body to heal and come back to itself. You suffer fever and pains in your body. The same thing happens spiritually. When you cannot pray, for yourself or for others, you are sick and need a time of isolation in order to heal. You suffer pains in your soul and in your heart. This is natural and needful, because no birth or re-birth comes without labor and travail. The labor and travail comes from the struggle to heal; to overcome the things that are making you ill. Just as there are others around you who love you enough to care for your needs when your body is ill, so you are surrounded invisibly by the Panagia, Christ, your patron Saint, angels, and many others who invisibly support and care for you until you are ready and able to begin to come out of your isolation. I am so happy for you now. 🙂

  12. Elizabeth @ The Garden Window
    May 23, 2010 @ 07:45:02

    I have also been struggling with the constant remembrance of and brooding about a situation which caused me much grief at the beginning of the year.

    Lord have mercy on us all !

  13. Meg
    May 23, 2010 @ 07:01:36

    Podcasts don’t generally do me any good, mostly because I don’t know how to access them, but also because the time required to sit through them is just not available to me. However, I did want to say that I liked what you wrote about confessing the same sins over and over. One Orthodox Christian who confesses weekly — in some jurisdictions, you confess every time you want to receive Communion — said that what struck him was how uncreative sin really is. The same thing, over and over and *over.* Sometimes I think that that’s what offends God, because He is endlessly creative, and when we’re stuck in the same loop, He can’t create anything new in us — ’cause we won’t let Him.

  14. debd
    May 23, 2010 @ 02:18:36

    I’ve also gained much from His Grace’s talk on this subject. I think it is a teaching I will return to again and again.

    Lately I’ve listened several times to a very good 3pt series by Archimandrite Melitios Webber and one thing he said I think may be salient to this topic. He recommends that people make a list of those they are trying to forgiving (or need to forgive) and place the list in our icon corners behind an icon. Then, only bring the list out every once in a while (few months..year?? I can’t remember). He said that sometimes he’ll look at the list and not even remember why he needed to forgive that person. The funny thing is that this particular topic really didn’t have much to do with the lecture itself – it came up in the Q&A.

  15. Elizabeth
    May 23, 2010 @ 02:01:33

    Thanks for this link. I am learning that the Jesus Prayer can really help with this; I am learning it s l o w l y and can relate all too well to your struggle.

    May the Lord help us and have mercy. Thank God it is Pentecost tomorrow, where we can continue to repent and pray again for God’s Holy Spirit …

  16. Suzanna
    May 23, 2010 @ 01:00:54

    My current email sig line:

    The soul cannot know peace unless he prays for his enemies. The soul that has learned of God’s grace to pray, feels love and compassion for every created thing, and in particular for mankind, for whom the Lord suffered on the Cross…. St. Seraphim of Sarov

    The trick is to really pray, not just say the name during prayers. This “really praying” comes with sweat, tears, much practice, perseverance. You learn to see the person, not the hurtful behavior; and when you do, you can keep coming back to that when the memories invade again.

  17. Suzanna
    May 23, 2010 @ 00:48:48

    BTDT. All of it. Fought my way step by step just as you write it. Back in 2007-9. Even found this same podcast/article. Tried to share, but it fell on deaf ears, or ears not ready to hear. Still have to go back to some of the steps occasionally. Some hurts go all the way to your core. Glad you finally found this.

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