Yesterday’s post reminded Bishop Basil of a section in the Way of the Pilgrim. An elder teaches the pilgrim how to confess, and he says, “I don’t love God & I don’t love neighbor” and then gives a lengthy explanation of why both statements are true. The following was edited from the book to appeal to a more general audience.
I do not love God. If I loved God, I would continuously think about God with heartfelt joy. Every thought of God would give me gladness and satisfaction. However, I often and eagerly think about earthly things, and thinking about God is toil and dryness. If I loved God, then talking with God in prayer would be my food and happiness and would draw me to regular communion with God.
Still, I find no joy in prayer but even find it an effort. I struggle with indifference, and I am plagued by being lazy. I am quickly busy with any silly distractions; it shortens prayer and keeps me from it. My time slips away unnoticed in silly hobbies. When I am engaged with God, when I put myself into God’s presence, every hour seems like a year. When a person love’s someone, they think of them throughout the day without ceasing. They picture themselves with them, care for them, and at all times, this beloved friend is never out of their thoughts. But I, throughout the day, barely set aside even a single hour to sink deep down into meditation with God, to inflame my heart with love of God. But I gladly give up 23 hours as enthusiastic offerings to the idols of my passions. I am first to talk about unimportant matters and things that reduce the spirit, giving me pleasure. But in consideration of God, I am dry, bored, and lazy. Even when I am, although unwillingly, drawn by others in the spiritual conversation, I try to shift the subject quickly to one that pleases my desires. I am tirelessly curious about new fads, about public affairs, and political events. I eagerly seek the satisfaction of my love of knowledge in science and art and ways of being materialistic. But the study of the Law of God, the knowledge of God and religion, make little impact on me and satisfy no hunger of my soul. I think of these things not only as non-essential for a Christian but in a random way, as a sort of thing to kill my spare time. To put it simply, if the keeping of God’s commandments shows one’s love for God, then in absolute truth, the conclusion is that I do not love God. Since I not only do not keep His commands but even make little attempt to do so as Basil the Great, says, “The proof that a person does not love God and God’s Christ shows in the fact that they do not keep God’s commandments.”
I do not love my neighbor, either. Not only am I unable to lay down my life for my neighbor’s sake, but I do not even sacrifice my happiness, well-being, and peace for the good of my neighbor. If I loved my neighbor as myself, as the Gospel asks, my neighbor’s hardships would trouble me, and my neighbor’s happiness would bring joy to me. However, I am quick to gossip, listening to unhappy stories about my neighbor. Only to not be bothered and remain undisturbed, or worse, I find pleasure in them. The sins of my neighbor I do not cover with love, but proclaim aloud with criticism. My neighbor’s well-being, honor, and happiness do not delight me as my own. Instead, they are something entirely foreign to me and give me no feeling of gladness. What is more, they subtly move my feelings of envy and hatred.
I am full of pride and sensual self-love. All my actions prove this. Seeing something good in myself, I want to bring it into view or pride myself upon it in front of other people and internally admire myself for it. I present an outward humility, yet I credit it all to my own strength and regard myself as superior to others, or at least not as bad as they are. If I notice a fault in myself, I try to justify it, and I cover it up by saying, “I am made like that” or “I am not to blame.” I get angry with people who do not treat me with respect and consider them unable to appreciate people’s value. I brag about my gifts: my failures in an effort, I think of as a personal insult. I murmur, and I find pleasure in the unhappiness of my enemies. If I strive after any virtue, it is to win praise, or spiritual self-indulgence, or earthly sympathy. In a way, I make an idol of myself and present it uninterrupted service, seeking in all things the pleasures of the senses, and nourishment for my sensual passions and lusts.
Going over all this, I see myself as proud, unfaithful, unbelieving, without love to God, and hating my neighbor. What state could be more sinful? The condition of the spirits of darkness is better than mine. Although they do not love God, hate people, and live upon pride, yet at least believe and tremble. But I? Can there be a doom more terrible than that which faces me? What sentence of punishment will be more severe than that upon the careless and foolish life that I recognize in me?