Monday, October 25, 2010

The stench of our sin

Every morning at Orthros (Matins), the 6 psalms (hexapsalmoi) are prayed. Each of these psalms, according to our tradition, will be ready by our Guardian Angels as we stand before the dread judgment seat of Christ on the last day. These 6 psalms (3, 37, 62, 87, 102 and 142) convict us and yet cause to remember that is only by the mercies and compassion of God that we can be saved. In Psalm 37, we pray "My bruises are become noisome and corrupt in the face of my folly." (HTM translation) Perhaps a better translation for corrupt is foul or putrid, which conveys the sense of rotting flesh. The Greek verb here is esapesan, derived from the Greek verb sepo, hence where we get medical words as sepsis, etc.

In Christianity today, especially in more mainline, liberal christianities, there is less and less talk of sin. But even in churches where sin has not been excised from the pulpit and the teachings, there has been a great tendency to "internalize" sin. Sin is something that only affects your mind and soul, it does not have outward manifestations such as wounds or even flesh.

However, the Scriptures, particularly the Psalms, the hymnography of the Church and many of the patristic writings assert that sin does have physical consequences as spiritual consequences. In our society where privacy is given such sacrosanct status, sin is viewed as a private matter which has no or limited repercussions for society as a whole.

If only we had keen spiritual noses. Could you imagine what the world would smell like if everyone's sin did emit a particular odor? We'd probably be forced like the Roman nobility of old who, when walking down the streets, would hold a rose to their nose to cover the stench of rotting garbage thrown out from the homes, taverns and businesses onto that street. But even alone, our own sins would probably be enough to completely overwhelm us.

But some of the great saints did have a nose for sin. My fellow blogger John Sanidopoulos at MYSTAGOGY relates this tale from St. Nicolai Velimirovich:

The saints were able to discern which passion possessed a man by the kind of stench he emanated. Thus it was that St. Euthymius the Great recognized the stench of the passion of adultery in the monk Emilian of the Lavra of St. Theoctistus. Going to Matins one morning, Euthymius passed by Emilian's cell and smelled the stench of the demon of adultery. Emilian had not committed any physical sin, but had adulterous thoughts that were being forced into his heart by the demon, and the saint already sensed it by its smell.

How different our society would be if we all had such noses? I think it would make us even worse sinners since we could tell what sin someone had committed by their odor. "You smell like you robbed someone today" or "You smell as if you cheated on your wife." Perhaps we should be grateful to lack such a "gift."

Though we may casually dismiss sin as having physical consequences, we should not pretend that such doesn't happen. Someone's cancer may well or may not be due to a person's sinfulness or even holiness. Such is not for us to tell. Yet our Lord Christ tells us that His Body and Blood are for the healing of BOTH soul and body. The Eucharist has cured many from diseases thought untreatable by modern science so has fervent prayer and fasting.

But it is a sad state that as many christian confessions no longer teach that sin has physical consequences are the same ones who say that sin is no longer an issue.

1 comment:

  1. I recently wrote an article on why the doctrine of sin is good news. I'd love to hear what you thought of it...