Striving for Total Illumination

I watched all of the available episodes of the Vice Channel’s series, “Dopesick Nation.” One of the lead characters, Frankie Holmes, dropped a description of his struggle with heroin that makes me think of our addiction to sin. He said (in episode 11) that he is only 18 inches away from being a total dope fiend. That is about the distance from the hand making a purchase of a drug and the main vein in which to inject it.

Frankie & Ally of Dopesick Nation

I know my own bad habits and sins and that if I am not careful that they can bring out the worst of me. I’ve never been a substance abuser. But, all sins have their own way of giving us a sense of comfort, pleasure, and reward. This is at the expense of obedience to and a right relationship with God. Eating the forbidden fruit may have seemed like a means of gratification; to be like God. In the end, it led to separation from the Source of Life, life around us, and ourselves. The Desert Father Poemen identified Adam and Eve’s failure, “Heedlessness is the beginning of sin.”(1)

Frankie works as an addiction counselor who helps uninsured addicts get funding for detox and recovery. To do his job effectively, he needs compassion for others who struggle and to work his own recovery program. This is the task of all Christians in general and we clerics in particular. The worst thing we can do is become so self-righteous that we cannot identify with others who fall into sin and fail to watch over our own souls.(2)

A Japanese icon of St. Moses and the robbers

I believe Saint Moses had a great awareness of his own impurity and compassion for others. Rather than punish those who tried to rob him, the former robber bound and brought them to the fellow monastics for advice on how to deal with them. Rather than judge a fellow monk who had fallen into sin, he demonstrated how God had forgiven his sins that fell behind him like leaking sand. His lighter skinned hierarch and clergy mocked his very dark complexion to test his spirit. Seeing the black monk’s humility, Moses was ordained to the priesthood and declared white not by skin, but the brightness of holiness.(3) He obtained an illumination like Abba Joseph who became all flame.(4)

Clergy and Altar Servers at St. Basil in Hampton

Illumination comes with knowing yourself and being compassionate to others because of it.

  1. Sayings of the Desert Fathers, Poemen 43
  2. Matthew 18:23-35
  3. Sayings of the Desert Fathers, Moses 2 & 4
  4. Sayings of the Desert Fathers, Joseph of Panephysis 7

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