Oh Lord and King, grant me the grace to be aware of my sins and not to judge my brother and sister …
From the Lenten Prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian
As with most men, lust is a problem that I struggle with. In today’s society, it is tolerated as long as one keeps his hands to himself. In fact, lust is expected, celebrated, and used for commercial purposes (Hooters, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, and the like). The ease in which one can access the most abusive and cruel forms of pornography on the internet makes this sin even more dangerous. Since taking up the journey toward Orthodoxy, I have put aside my worst manifestations of this sin. Yet, I still succumbed to my eyes and imagination more times that I wish to count or share.
This Lent, I have made it a special point to refrain from such wicked imaginations. I tell myself that if an Orthodox married man refrains from touching his wife during the fast, what gives me the right to fantasize being with any woman. My wife suffers from both Bipolar Disorder and Multiple Sclerosis. Thus, lust has been a great burden on me. But, I went into the fast believing that God will deliver me from this chronic problem.
A necessary part of the spiritual healing process is to be made fully aware of one’s sin. By indulging in lust, I separate myself from the greatest icon I have in my home. My wife is my greatest icon for Christ counts Himself with the lowly and afflicted:
‘In as much as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.” (Matthew 25:40)
The other icons I have in my home, if I ignore or misuse them, that would be bad enough. They are man-made widows into heaven. In fact, I can change windows and move them around as I see fit without any consequences. But, how many times have I ignored, shut out, been angry with, neglected, and belittled my wife desiring someone else? How many times have I failed to pray for, pray with, and show affection for my wife? Again, since being on the Orthodox journey, I have improved. Praying for her, struggling against my passions, and offering the Lenten Prayer has broken me to see how far I have fallen and how far I have to go. What I have done to her, I have done to Jesus. What I do to her, I do to Jesus. No wonder Paul advises us to “Work out your salvation in fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12).
It is no wonder why the Early Fathers (some date back to Irenaeus for this tradition) prescribed the 40 day Lenten Fast. Once when we are broken by the awareness of our fallen state, it takes time to be moulded into useful vessels of the Gospel. Orthodoxy calls for fasting throughout the year to help remind us that we are still a work in progress. In the Trisagion Prayers, we constantly ask for the mercy of the Holy Trinity. The Jesus Prayer underscores the fact that we are to be the tax collector and not the Pharisee (Luke 18:10-14). In the Ancient Faith, confession is a sacrament before God with the priest as a witness in the body of Christ as well as a private act. And that we begin the fast with Forgiveness Vespers where we all ask each other, including the priest and bishops present, to forgive our sins.
I am broken as I have seen and understand that I have not been a good husband nor as good as others think I am. It is not my place to compare myself to other men. I will be judged on my actions, words, and THOUGHTS (Matthew 5:27-30). I acknowledge my broken state. I have faith in the healing process. I have hope that the Lord will restore my wife. I have hope that He will restore me for her according to His will.