May 10, 2020

Wherein Lies Life's Greatest Evil?

Wherein Lies Life's Greatest Evil?

Archbishop Averky of Syracuse

"Behold, thou art made whole. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee." John 5:14

After His glorious Resurrection from the dead, Our Lord Jesus Christ remained on earth for an additional forty days. During this time, He came to His disciples on more than one occasion, "speaking of the things pertaining to the Kingdom of God" (Acts 1:3). Accordingly, for forty days we glorify Christ's Resurrection, singing joyous Paschal hymns. In addition, the Sundays of this season are dedicated to the commemoration of the people and events that are independently associated with the feast of Christ's Resurrection – such as the week of St. Thomas, and the week of the Holy Myrrh-bearing Women – or else of those events that took place precisely at this time of year, the Pentecostal period, and which brilliantly attest to the Divine glory, kingly majesty, and omnipotence of our Lord Jesus Christ; to His sovereignty over the natural world and its laws; intending by this presentation of His Divine power and authority to prevent any shades of doubt in the great truth of His most glorious Resurrection from the dead.

In the fourth week after Pascha, it is remembered how Our Lord Jesus Christ, with His word alone, healed the oppressive malady of a completely incapacitated man who lay for thirty-eight years by the pool near the Sheep's Gate, which was visited once each year by an Angel. Descending from Heaven, the Angel would agitate the water, imparting to it the power to heal, but only for that one invalid who would be the first to descend into the pool immediately after the visitation.

A fearful affliction is such total paralysis! And one can imagine, how great must have been the moral agonies of that unfortunate man, when he, who for so long lay near the source of healing, could not be healed because he did not have anyone who could lower him into the pool immediately after the agitation of the water. When he had dragged himself to the pool with great difficulty, "another stepped down before him," and all his painful efforts and hopes proved to be in vain.

Seeking this miserable man, the Lord took pity on him, and with His one authoritative word raised him up from the bed of infirmity. "Arise, take up your bed and walk!" He said to the paralyzed man, and this was enough for the miracle to take place. The infirm man was instantly healed of his severe, long-standing illness, rose to his feet, took up his pallet, and walked away.

Some time later, the Lord met him in the temple, and desiring to impart to him healing of the soul, in addition to the healing of the flesh, gave him this portentous counsel: "Behold, thou are made whole. Sin no more lest a worse thing come unto thee" (St. John 5:14). It may be inferred from this that the fearful illness of the paralytic had been brought on by some previous sins of his. From the Lord's words it is also evident that every sin is followed closely by physical infirmities and ills of different kinds. In some cases the relation is quite obvious to all: we know, for example, that such sins as gluttony, drinking, smoking, unchastity, not infrequently give rise to grave and even incurable diseases. But, even any sin, no matter how insignificant it may be, always reflects detrimentally on the body's health. All sin, to a great or lesser extent, troubles the conscience, sickens the soul, veils it in darkness, sorrow and hopelessness. This in turn reflects poorly on the nervous system, on the activity of the heart and the circulation of blood, which is the principal guarantor of our physical well-being; and so, the physical health of the sinner, in proportion to the growing frequency of his transgressions, becomes progressively undermined.

Thus, this reading from the Gospel convinces us that even the diseases of the flesh – one of the most unpleasant and tormenting evils of our temporal earthly life – ORIGINATE IN SIN, and ultimately lead the sinner to the death is inescapable for all, the death that is, as God's Word teaches, no other thing than "the wages of sin" (Romans 6:23).


Unfortunately, and especially in our time, this is something that many do not understand.

Modern man, imagining himself to be a representative of a highly refined age, will be greatly put to task in trying to find an answer to the question, "What is the greatest evil that exists? From what do people suffer most?" And it should be clear, that this is the most important question raised by human existence. With what else should people occupy their thoughts, than the definitive determination of life's principal evil, in order to begin merciless struggle against it, in order to free us from evil.

In our day and age, many so-called, "social workers" and "political workers" like to occupy themselves with the resolution of this issue, and all to no avail.

Some see life's chief evil to lie in the imperfection of the state system, and try to arrive at what they believe is a perfect system. Others see life's chief evil to be the lack of education, the absence of widespread instruction, which they understand to be the teaching of all possible human sciences and their assimilation by all human beings. Still a third group sees the evil of life to lie in social inequality, in the inequitable distribution of wealth and every other of this world's blessings, and fruitlessly and unsuccessfully attempt to establish universal equality among people. A fourth group maintains that life's greatest evil is poverty, unemployment, and so forth, and so on.

All of these people, some of whom are talented and intellectually powerful, but at the same time spiritually blind, limited in spirit, their moral sense atrophied – share an exclusively superficial approach to the question of life's greatest evil, and therefore they are impotent to resolve it in any satisfactory way, and will never resolve it.

And why should we even waste so much effort arguing the point, as if we were straining to break through an open door, when this most important, most urgent and relevant question has long since been answered for us Christians.

LIFE'S GREATEST EVIL IS SIN. Free human existence from the presence of sin, and all our life must be immediately transformed: it will become tranquil and happy, a veritable earthly paradise. Let sin remain to rule among people and you will never by no external means, impose sense and order on life, nor make it prosperous, fortunate and joyous for all.

It is precisely of this all-encompassing, all-wasting power of sin that today's Gospel reading speaks.

With His one word alone, the Lord healed an invalid who had lain for 38 years near a healing spring hoping in vain to be made well. And raising him up from his sick bed, He cautioned him respecting the future: "Sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee (John 5:14).

With these portentous words, the Lord indicated that the cause of the unfortunate man's fearful infirmities lay in the sins he had previously committed. In addition, he warned that sin, inevitably brings with it not only such dire diseases as paralysis, but even more dreadful ills.

"Sin no more!" – it is these words of Christ's warning that should be the principal, founding motto of our human existence. He who forgets this great God-given truth will have vainly wasted his efforts in making his own life – as well as the lives of other people – peaceful, joyous, prosperous and happy.

He who loves sinning will inevitably sooner or later fall prey to the oppressive affliction of spiritual and physical feebleness. The sufferings of body and of soul will be his lot, and in the life hereafter – everlasting, unremitting torment.

Is it not in this position of the infirm man, lying hopelessly by the Sheep's Gate pool, that all mankind finds itself today, madly rejecting Christ the Savior, refusing to acknowledge the existence of sin as such, and seeking various paths of life and salvation other than those which Christ, Our Lord points out to us?

Sin reigns ruthlessly among the people of today, smiting both the body and soul with its death-wielding venom. And for so long as sin maintains its dominion, there can be no liberation or deliverance for the world from all the evils that beset it, and it is even meaningless to talk of its prosperity and preservation.

It would seem that experience in life should long since have made this clear and comprehensible to everyone, but alas! engulfed in the depths of sinful life, led by diabolical pride and culpable self-love, self-confident people, who put all their trust in themselves alone, easily forget the lessons which life teaches them. And no matter how many blows they receive in the course of their existence, whereby the Lord Himself instructs them, nevertheless, it is frequent among them that, as God's Word instructs us, "according to the true proverb, the dog is turned to his own vomit again, and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire" (II Peter 2:22).

According to Church tradition, that is exactly what happened to the invalid upon whom the Lord had shed His bounty. He did not heed the warning: "Sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee." The lesson for the fourth week after Pascha, the week of the invalid, says that this infirm man, so wondrously healed by the Lord, was the very man who struck Our Lord Jesus Christ upon the cheek during the trial before the High Priest (John 18:22), for which he obtained "a trial worse than the weakening of limbs ... that eternal fire, not for eight and thirty years alone, but unto time everlasting, should torment him."

You see to what extreme can come those who do not remember the mercy and generosity of God. Pride and sinful self-esteem can lead the person who is unmindful of himself to the state of a madman, acting rashly, and doom him forever! The desire to ingratiate someone, to gain someone's favor, attention and thereby some personal reward, frequently drives those who become infatuated with their sinful selves to such truly insane deeds that trail in their wake the most frightening and incorrigible consequences!

It is for this reason that God's Word ranks the servile cultivation of others' favor, the desire to please other people, as one of the most serious and dangerous sins, of which the Apostle Paul speaks in his epistle to the Galatians, "If I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ" (Gal. 1:10).

As the Catechism instructs us, that man, whom we try to please to the point of forgetting God, becomes for us to some degree "an other god" instead of the true God, this makes us to transgress against the first commandment of God's Law: "I am the Lord, thy God: thou shalt have no other gods, but Me."

The One God, our Creator and Benefactor, we must please in all things, and more than anything else in the world, we must fear and avoid sin, which our Lord despises and finds displeasing, and which serves as the main reason for the evils of all possible kinds, that afflict us in this limited earthly life, as well as of ever-lasting doom in the future life that awaits us all. Christ our Savior came into this world, and was Crucified, and rose from the dead, precisely to vanquish sin – life's greatest evil – and to grant us freedom from its oppressive power.

The joy of the Resurrection is the joy of victory over sin. This joy is beyond the reach of those who stubbornly persist in their love of sin, who have no desire to cast it off, who do not wish to wage battle with sin, and who thoughtlessly and inconsiderately continue to sin. Those who value transgression will never experience – in all its force and wholeness– the grace-filled, pure, holy joy of the resurrection. For them, it is as if Christ had not risen. The true, light-filled joy is unknown to them. Here their lot is perpetual anxiety, remorse, spiritual yearning and futility; and there awaits them hereafter eternal gloom and unabating sufferings.

All of us who have prepared for Communion, confessed, and partaken of the Communion of the Holy Mysteries during the last Great Lent, by that itself were healed of our afflictions, and now it is only necessary for us to hold steadfastly by Christ's warning, made to the invalid: "Sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee."

Source: Translated from Russian: Orthodox Russia, by Miss Maria Belaeff, Issue No. 10, 1976, pp. 1-3, St. Job of Pochaev Press, Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Monastery, Jordanville, New York.