Once upon a time there was a man who was alive.

Location: Hattiesburg, Mississippi, United States
St. Cuthbert and Disciples in a Boat


Know Thyself

The Desert Fathers had a favorite maxim: to know oneself truly was a greater work than raising the dead or achieving other great miracles. Of course, they did not envision the "searching for yourself" pursuits of the modern; nor did they suppose that we would chance upon the "divine within." Rather, this sort of knowing oneself is an uncomfortable confrontation with the worst of sinners: me, the old Adam within.

Self-knowledge, the knowledge of one's sin, is the path to repentance. I must know myself to be a sinner, a real sinner and not merely one in theory. I am willing enough to acknowledge a sort of passive sinfulness- but directly confronting real sins is much harder. Most often I try to mentally wear down any sin I might have commited, parsing at it until I have convinced myself that I was, at worst, only in error, an innocent mistake. After all, most of my sins are "small," I tell myself: I am not living in apostasy, I am not getting drunk on the weekends with my peers, I try to say nice things to people, and so on. And what's more, I read the Scriptures every day, study the Fathers, and even have a prayer rule! Granted, I sometimes don't get around to reading until late at night, and my prayer rule is rather short, and I usually shorten it further, but still: I'll bet I'm doing better than most people. I even sometimes talk about God to people: sure, it's mostly to show off my piety and learning, but it's something, I'm sure.

Which is all rot, of course. My self-righteousness only serves as a means of deluding myself, which is very helpful to maintaining my comfortable lifestyle (and hence back to self-love). My external "niceness" lends itself to projecting a very good image of myself to others. I enjoy hearing complements. It makes me feel good. Why do people complement me? Because they do not see my inner life. They do not see my hidden sins, the "small sins" that I commit and then parse away from my conscience.

The alternative to this is self-knowledge. "Do not think more highly of yourself than you should" said the Apostle (to paraphrase). I must understand and know my condition, in its ugly particulars, and then repent of it: confessing the things I have done, and acknowledging them as my own. Then I may recognize my need for a real Saviour, and embrace Him Who has power to both forgive me and empower me against sin.


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