It has been said by others that Christ was told to leave by the people who witnessed Christ’s casting out of the demons and into the swine because they were guilty. They were caught by the Messiah Himself herding animals that were considered unclean, and so rather than be joyful at the salvation of the two formerly possessed men, they were full of scorn and shame.
At the Divine Liturgy, we receive the life of Christ within us(John 6). The other services in the daily cycle all lead to and prepare us for that moment.
How often does shame and guilt keep people from life? People will sin and inflict themselves with spiritual wounds yet will deny themselves the saving medicine at the Hospital for souls. The sin festers inside of us and slowly we avoid God. Like Adam and Eve, we hide ourselves when He lovingly calls us, instead of running to Him with open arms. St. Barsanouhphius of Optina spoke of this symptom of guilt and shame when he said “A sure sign of the deadening of the soul is evading church services. A person who has grown cold towards God, first of all begins to avoid going to church—in the beginning, he tries to arrive at the service a little late, and then he completely stops visiting God’s church.” They stop coming to Church, they stop receiving the Body and Blood, and they start to die.(Jn 6:53)
When a person really starts to die (spiritually), they begin to hate God. Everything and anything that has to do with piety and holiness, anything that reminds them of the Church -and their sinful state- becomes a target of their wrath. One is reminded of the image of the River of Fire. While God’s love (which shines on all) warms those who love Him and makes those who draw closer to Him more like Him, those who despise Him feel a burning, painful reminder of the love they have chosen to deny. The shame, guilt and regret they harbor inside becomes like tinder and makes the fire burn hotter.
If we look at society, we see this attempt to cover up guilt and shame in so many people. I forget the psychological term for it, but it is when someone tries to cover and hide their own faults by accusing others of the very thing that they themselves do. Cheaters claim everyone else is a cheater. Liars believe everyone is out to get them. Adulterers accuse their spouses of cheating and are possessive and manipulative. Theives count every penny spent by the Church. Hypercriticism is the M.O. of the guilty.
We see this in the Church too. (Remember, it is a refuge for sinners!) When people haven’t gone to confession or received the Mysteries (Sacraments) in a long time, they start to really lose their faculties. When the weight of their unconfessed sins bare down on them, they are taken to low, dark places.
Then in their eyes, nothing about the Church is good anymore. The Priest is so full of faults, he becomes the very example of ineptitude and scandal. His family is disgusting, the Sunday school teacher is horrible at their job, the chanting is annoying, the parishioner’s names are weird, the church grounds are too dirty, the icons are boring -along with the homily, the incense stinks, this guy is a jerk and that lady is a busybody, and everybody at church is a hypocrite. “That’s why I don’t go to church anymore!”
DOES THIS SOUND FAMILIAR?
‘Hey, Christ? Great miracle and all, but -please leave.’
If I may add an important bit to this, sexual sins seem to me to be the greatest killer of teens and young adults. (Fornication, [any sexual act outside marriage] that is.) It is a soul-murderer that decimates many churches of all stripes. Much like St. Barsanouphius’ description above, they start to come less and less, until they are never seen again. Teens start having more problems with their parents regarding church and a life of piety, and then once the parents tire of fighting -the child is rarely seen again. It is almost a guarantee that a young adult who was raised more or less in the Church , where church-life was a norm in their family, when they suddenly start taking less and less interest in godly things and eventually fall away, some kind of sexual sin was involved.
And so what can be done? How can we rid ourselves of the guilt and shame that keeps us from moving toward Christ?
I think we can all agree that when we finally had enough and were broken in our hearts beyond measure, we finally went to confession, where we let it all out, and afterward were different people. We realized how horribly sick we were and saw our faults and how silly we were being. Life again has its rose colored tint.
This takes repentance, which is given by grace. The grace is always there, but it is up to us to do what is right. Christ comes into our midst every day. He comes in with miracles and signs for us who do not deserve them. Instead of running away and trying to hide, we need to embrace Him. We need to welcome Him into our homes and hearts.
If we have spent our lives really messing things up -and we have to admit that our current situation is all due to the decisions we have made- then we need to fix it. If we look at all that we have screwed up around us -maybe how we could have done more to keep our children in the Faith, or how we haven’t given to the Church or anyone needy when we could have- then the only way to fix it is to repent, to go the other way.
We cannot change what we have done, my brothers and sisters, but with God’s help, we can change what we will do. That has an effect that is powerful and can influence others as well. Who knows how many people in our Gospel reading, the people of the area Christ was visiting, would have come closer to God had He but been allowed to stay?
How different would history have been if Adam had run to God, accepting his fault and asking forgiveness instead of pointing his finger and blaming it on Him?
So let us run to Him. Let us stop worrying about the weight of our sins and our past; they don’t matter anymore. Embrace Him in repentance and go forward with the grace He has given us.
Guilt is not a part of Orthodoxy, but Repentance and Mercy are.
God be with you.