Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | June 24, 2008

Elder Paisios and a Little Divine Justice

“For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 5:20)

Once my ears were often filled with sermons on “Social Justice”. And though I suffer selective recall, I’m not sure I heard nearly as much about Divine Justice. So while I would agree that we should do the Orthodox thing and do both, I wanted to put in a little time on our less spoken virtues.

Divine Justice seems to offer a quiet and humble approach to “picking up our cross and following”. It’s not the work we choose, but the work in front of us. So often we see it as beneath our dignity much less our efforts. Whatever it is, it’s whatever we leave undone. Understandably, it’s boring everyday stuff, and at the same time “complicated” and obscurely difficult – otherwise we’d do it, huh? Maybe leaving for later frees us to tackle the heroic stuff, the stuff really “worthy of Christ”; the stuff amounting to our own Everest or BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) and overwhelm us into understanding our smallness and need for Christ. Yeah.

Now don’t get the wrong idea: These things are important, worthy and all the rest. I applaud them as good and worthy in themselves and worthy of the best and most heroic of our saints. We should have nothing but admiration for these efforts and the folks that do them, and should thank God that they are done, and done by these folks.. and we should join them when and as we are able. Honest. Maybe next year. Right after “American Idol”, or “the third beer”.

Rather my point lies elsewhere: there are also smaller jobs readily at hand that all of us can tackle – even the least among us – and maybe even accomplish. And that’s where the crucible seems to lie: we really have to sweat the small stuff, too. Fact is, I’m certain the small stuff is precisely the sort of stuff we have to do in order to really manage the greater and worthier challenges, to really be ready for the BHAGs of life. And yes, this is often precisely backward from what our gurus tell us, and why it matters.

When we fail the big stuff, it’s often as John Wooten used to say, because “failure to prepare is preparing to fail”; we’ve tried to take on too much too fast, and skipped the small stuff. Of course, we lack training, and falling flat on our duff should be expected rather than a surprise.

What’s the training we need? Again – the small, everyday stuff. This is the stuff of the average mom or dad or kid as much as anyone else: getting up and going to work or school; showing up on time; listening and contributing to those around us; doing our work or homework; giving it our best; giving 100% of ourselves and not holding back; making the small sacrifices and doing these things satisfied that others may freely enjoy the fruits of our labors. It’s giving back to the field in which we’ve worked; it’s going beyond what’s asked to do what’s needed or wanted unasked or because “it’s right”. And it’s not complaining, not explaining, but being accountable and letting our work speak for itself.

This is really detailed stuff: a personal life lived in the details. And it’s paying enough attention to these details to know we’ve never done enough; to know that there really is more we could do; to admit that we can never appreciate the people around us on whom we rely as much as we should. And it’s not in resolving to change… but changing; to begin to take the time; to thank every last one every chance we get; to let them know how much we depend on them; to let them know how critically important they are; and to live like whole people and part of others instead of how and where we find ourselves. And it is so much more than this… for it’s less. As Father Paisios explains:

I always wondered how someone could become a saint, and what was the distinctive trait which made the saints receptive to God’s grace.

One day, I went to Father Paisios and asked him:

“Elder, what do saints have that makes them different from the rest of us, and thus they receive the grace of God?”

“Our saints had divine justice instead of human justice,” he replied.

“What is divine justice?” I asked him once again.

He answered by telling me some charming stories:

“Suppose, two men are sitting at the table to eat. In front of them, there is a plate with ten peaches. If one of them greedily eats seven peaches leaving three for his friend, he is being unfair to him. This is injustice.”

“Instead, if he says: ‘Well, we are two and the peaches are ten. So, each one of us is entitled to eat five peaches.’ If he eats the five peaches and leaves five for his friend, then he applies human justice; that is why, many times, we go to court to find human justice.”

“However, if he understands that his friend likes peaches very much, he can pretend that he is not very fond of them and eat only one, and then says to him: ‘Please eat the rest of the peaches, as I don’t really like them; besides, my stomach aches and I should not eat any more.’ This person has divine justice; he prefers to be unfair to himself by human standards and be rewarded for his sacrifice by God’s grace, which he will abundantly receive.”

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