BROTHERS AND SISTERS, through faith all of the saints conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were killed by the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented - of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect. Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily distracts, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the Author and Perfecter of our faith.
That's one of the images Saint Paul uses to describe our life as Christians. It is a race because there is a starting point and there is a finish. This race is not a sprint, but rather a marathon.
I do not know much about running, as I am not much of a runner. Can't stand it, actually. But I would imagine that in order to run an effective and efficient race, the runner needs to train physically and prepare mentally.
Apparently, Saint Paul knew about running more than I do, so he advises that we "lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily distracts" us. Before the race, runners take off anything unneeded for the race, anything that would weigh them down. This kind of makes sense, one would not run in sweat pants, holding a book, an iPhone, and a coffee cup. One would put on as light a uniform as possible, and leave behind all other items that do not pertain to the race.
One particular thing Saint Paul points that weighs us down and easily distracts is sin. Sin pulls us down because it whispers sweetly into our ear, as we run our race, that this whole race thing is a dumb idea. Why run, when you can indulge yourself in things that delight you? Why run, when you can sit down in a shade and relax? Why spend time on self-improvement by doing serious self-examination of our own actions, when it is easier (and a lot more pleasurable) to examine others and their behavior? Why admit that we are mired in sin, when the culture around us today says that it's not sin, but "self-exploration"?
Sin easily distracts because we interact with it. In order to overcome sin, we do not fight against it or with it. We lay it aside, as Saint Paul says. When we fight something, we give it energy. So why waste time engaging our sins?
It is true that, very often, when we are tempted, we sin. And in order to lay it aside, we need to acknowledge sin and let it be. Saint Ambrose of Optina said that sinful thoughts always disturb us, but if we do not cooperate with them, if we do not dwell on them, then we are not guilty of them. And Saint Porphyrios said that we do not become holy by fighting evil. Like Saint Paul, he instructs to look towards Christ, and that will save us.
Life is a race, as we run, we are constantly distracted. And we are to lay aside all these distractions, we are not to engage with them. We are weighed down, we fall, when we participate in sin, either by fighting it or by indulging in it.
Life is a race, the path for which was blazed for us by Christ Himself, Who is also in the race with us, and Who is, at the same time, at the finish line awaiting to embrace us with the words, "Good and faithful servant."
For last year's reflection, click here.
Yours in the Lord,
Father Aleksey - your friendly Singac priest