Sin is an ugly thing. It’s against nature. It’s vulgar, shameful, something we’re not supposed to do. Something forbidden. But we’re lured and tempted, coaxed into doing whatever it may be, wherever one’s weakness might lead them. And who are these people that fall into sin? All of us. St. Paul says that we’ve all sinned and come short of the glory of God. St. John, on the other hand, says that if anyone claims to be without sin they deceive themselves and the truth is not in them.
From an Eastern Orthodox perspective, sin is not so much something we have done as much as it is a disease we battle. In other words, while we can safely say that we are sinners, there is a difference between those who do battle against their sins or weaknesses and those who accept them as normal. Yet, whatever the case, we are all sinners; that is, we can all agree that nobody’s perfect.
To help us in this realization of our imperfection we seek the help of others; we seek a community, brothers and sisters.
The church community, among other things, serves that very purpose. St. Paul tells us, “Bear you one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). And, “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ ” (Gal. 5:14). Beautiful words, true, but they’re not always adhered to. Sadly, the very community we go to to seek an inner healing tends to cause us greater grief. All too often this is the very place we get all our gossip from.
It’s interesting to note that the word “gossip” originally meant “godparent” and is connected with the word “sibling.” In other words, gossip comes about when people are too familiar, too close to each other. Subsequently, some will argue that more gossip tends to be found in smaller church communities as opposed to larger ones. Whether that’s true or not is beside the point. Gossip looks to condemn someone else. Rooted in one’s pride, it is smugness, pretentiousness and self-importance. Psychological studies have proven that the true reason people are compelled to gossip is the feeling of superiority which results from a vicious spreading of information. It’s a way of saying, ‘Nobody’s perfect but at least I’m more perfect than such and such.’ ”
Surely, we can all benefit from a dose of constructive criticism from time to time. Yet, there isn’t much to benefit from when the criticism is spread from behind one’s back. We’ve read in the gospels how Jesus “knew their hearts” which is immediately followed by “and He said to them.” He didn’t look into the hearts of his opponents and then spread rumors about them. He told them to their face. We all have shortcomings and weaknesses and we all make mistakes. It’s no fun having them exploited in conversation when we’re not around.
Moreover, when St. Paul in his epistle to the Romans (chapter 1:29-30) enumerates the “things which are not fitting” he mentions not only sexual immorality, murder and deceit but also the “whispers, backbiters,” that is, from the Greek katalalous (kata=against and laleo=I speak), those who speak against others. Subsequently, not only does such behavior have no benefit for the community, it hasn’t any for our souls either. “A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends” (Proverbs 16:28).
Perhaps the best and simplest advice we find in the writings of St. Paul: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29).
The Rev. Milovan Katanic is pastor of St. George Serbian Orthodox Church, Hermitage.