From the Ignatius Orthodox Church website. Madison, WI --Ernie 2/28/12
“Our thoughts create either harmony or disharmony in the world.”
---Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica
There can never be enough said to reprove the belief that whatever a man does behind closed doors, “as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else,” is his own business. This erroneous way of thinking comes from the church of rugged individualism. It cannot be emphasized enough what a flat out lie this belief is, a masked entitlement that has become an embedded deception at the very foundation of what “enlightened” men call personal freedom.
Orthodox spirituality has a completely different paradigm upon which society is built. Men are not ruggedly individual but rather they are radically interdependent. Our main model is founded in our belief in the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The relationship between the members of the Holy Trinity is ONE of mutual will, purpose, obedience and love. This is God’s nature which is the nature that was given to man when God created him “in our image, after our likeness” (Genesis 1:26). Man was created with one will, purpose and love with God and with his fellow man. Prior to the fall of Adam all of creation was in harmony unlike anything man have ever seen or experienced since. It is this harmony to which all men, and especially all believers from all time, have been called to aspire to. It is a harmony which, because of sin and self, eludes men in their pride and passion.
It is with this in mind that I believe we can also refute the notion that whatever a man thinks in his head, “as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else,” is his own business. PLEASE DO NOT GET ME WRONG. I am not advocating for any kind of thought police. What I am saying is that a man must be willing to police his own thoughts and recognize how these thoughts “create harmony or disharmony in the world.” I am not speaking about some mystical karma which projects some sort of negative or positive energy through our hair follicles and finger tips. What I am speaking about is something that we all should be familiar with in one way or another. Who hasn’t or doesn’t struggle with thoughts from time to time? As a father confessor this is probably the sin I hear most frequently confessed. And while most thoughts are involuntary, called provocations, it is the voluntary thoughts which follow to further tempt a man that become problematic. Who hasn’t at one time or another gotten riled up by what someone said or did, and then allowed themselves to get even more riled up after the fact by repeatedly calling to mind what was said or done?
It is this “calling to mind” that I wish to set before us with a challenge. Involuntary provocations are one thing, (unless one complains about being unable to stop thinking about food after spending minutes in front of an open refrigerator door,) but what happens to a man once he engages his passions in this thought or that? He will be led to some degree of sin (missing the mark). And because men are radically interdependent we believe that all sin has an effect on all men and on the world itself. One can see this in the simple example of how a negative circumstance can put a man into a bad mood, and how that bad mood can affect everyone around him. But the Elder Thaddeus’ words are even more subtle than this brutish example. The fact is that whether in the subtlety of thought or the consequence of action sin never just affects the one who sinned! The good news, however, is that it works the same way with virtue, meaning that we do have the creative capacity to build rather than to destroy. What this means for us is that we must not only be watchful over our actions but also over our thoughts. Thoughts can either inspire or diminish the movement of men and the world towards virtue. Watchfulness, therefore, becomes everyone’s responsibility as an expression of love within the community and the boundaries of personal freedom. The even greater news is that with a commitment to this virtue a man will become even more aware of how his own inner life as well as the world around him can be transformed by his watchfulness. Then, eventually by grace, even our inclinations can be made harmonious in their very nature.