The venerable Maxim the Confessor says: “Should we not tremble, hearing how God the Father, without judging anyone Himself, ‘hath committed all judgment unto the Son’ (John 5:22)? And the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, says to us: ‘Judge not, and ye shall not be judged’ (Luke 6:37). Similarly Apostle Paul says: ‘Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes’ (1 Cor. 4:5), and again: ‘for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself’ (Rom. 2:1). I tell you, it is so: for men, having ceased to weep over their own sins, have taken the judgment out of the hands of the Son, and judge and condemn each other as though they themselves were sinless! Truly this frightens the heavens and makes the earth tremble.”
Centuries pass, yet men still stand before this unassailable wall of condemnation and are unable to overcome it. Adam, justifying himself in paradise before God, condemned Eve; Cain, having condemned his brother Abel in his heart, killed him; the sin of condemnation led the Jews to kill the Messiah; and we, modern Cainites and Pharisees, are pushed by condemnation to a daily spiritual execution of our brothers.
Judgment tortures the doers of it themselves, takes away their peace of mind, forces them to continuously monitor the actions of those around them, and poisons their souls with the bitter poison of suspicion.
An elder once said: “It is easy to step unto the path of salvation: you must only firmly decide that from this moment you will no longer judge anyone.” We can understand these words with our mind, but how do we actually accomplish them? For this we must understand why we judge others. The reason lies in our false self-evaluation: he judges others, who feels that he has a right to judge, who places himself higher than others, who sees himself blameless of the sins of which he accuses others. Whoever is not aware of his own spiritual corruption, will never cease to judge others.
But we are all tarnished by sin, we all agonize over our corruption, we all hope for deliverance in eternal life, we all have need of Divine aid. Again we know all this theoretically, but in practice it is painfully difficult to refrain from judgment; we yearn to judge others. Why? Because judgment has become a passion with us and, like all vices, it gives us demonic pleasure, a shiver of prideful delight. How “delightful” to judge someone in the course of a friendly conversation, to laugh at another’s deficiencies… But do we not heed the warning of the Gospel that some day we will have to answer for every single word we utter, and that includes this false delight which is based on condemnation?
The struggle against the vice of judgment, like any other vice, cannot be theoretical; it must take place every day, every minute, throughout one’s entire life; it must be based on forcing oneself to be attentive to all one’s words and thoughts. In other words, we cannot do without spiritual labor.
But of what should this spiritual endeavor consist in such a case? In monitoring oneself with utmost attention throughout all the various circumstances of life. Moreover, we will soon notice that, in the course of the day, occasions for judgment surround us like invisible underwater reefs and threaten to destroy the ship of our soul. However, with God’s help, we will gradually learn to avoid collision with these underwater reefs: where we formerly became irritated – we will remain calm; where we became angry – we will remain silent; where we tried to justify ourselves – we will remain humble; where we judged others – we will pray for them and for ourselves, in order to avoid similar sins.
Very soon we will notice that our soul, no longer burdened by judgment, will experience genuine spiritual joy and lightness; and that is only natural, since the yoke of the sins of others will no longer oppress us.
Just as judgment attracts other vices: anger, quarreling, enmity, so a victory over condemnation opens the way to other virtues: pure prayer, tranquility, a true evaluation of one’s sins. It is for this reason that demons do their best to ensnare the soul into the nets of judgment, and to hinder its liberation from this vice. In turn we, too, have no right to delay our struggle with judgment for the same reason, but must immediately begin to watch ourselves attentively.
“To watch oneself” is the golden rule of Christian morality, which – alas! – is so often neglected by Christians. How much effort we spend on external activities and how little energy we save for the task of monitoring ourselves. And yet, without this internal endeavor, nothing external will ever lead us to salvation…
Saint Seraphim of Sarov said that the goal of Christian life is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit. And to attain this goal we must step onto the path of a spiritual struggle with passions, and with God’s help, overcome them one by one. But we can begin the battle with this same passion for judgment.
Let us remember the words of the elder: “It is easy to step unto the path of salvation: you must only firmly decide that from this moment you will no longer judge anyone.”
(Reprinted from “Orthodox Russia,” No. 20, 2002)