Monday, April 15, 2013

Taxing Our Faults

When Elder Paisios was questioned about whether he struggled as a novice he answered, "Every time something happened in my struggle, or if others told me something, I never allowed things to just roll off 'untaxed." This leads to the question, what is the tax? Normally a tax is an additional cost that is added on to the goods we buy or service we use.  It is an extra burden that we are obligated to pay.

If we reverse this and say what is meant by being untaxed, it implies that there is no extra cost. This is how Elder Paisios explains the idea of a tax on his faults.  He says, "'Untaxed' means that you disregard your faults, aren't touched by them, you just let them roll off."  The tax is our effort to examine our own behavior. So, if we do not place a 'tax' on the faults we discover or are pointed out to us by others, we are in a sense ignoring them.  This ignorance leads to indifference. We begin to accept them as just part of our normal behavior. Our heart is hardened. Our conscience becomes blind.

Regarding this indifference the Elder says, "Indifference hardens the field of our heart and, no matter what we are told, what ever happens, we are not touched, we can't become aware of our guilt so as to repent." Once we become indifferent to our faults there is no way for us to improve. We know that God calls us to have a pure heart.  The only way to gain this is by being able to recognize our failings.  We must learn to fight indifference so we can become repentive and continually make progress in our way of life. We must learn to apply a tax on our failings.

What are some ways we avoid applying a tax to our faults? We change the subject when they are brought up. We find some rationale to explain our behavior, often blaming our environment or some other person.  We can get pretty creative in finding ways to avoid applying this tax. It's not a heavy tax. It only requires us to take the time to examine ourselves and seek ways to become more like Christ.

The Elder give us an example:
If someone says that I am a hypocrite, I would not say, "May whoever said that be cursed with a bad year!" Instead I would seek to find out what caused him to say such a thing. I would reason and say, "Something is going on; the other person is not at fault. There must be something in myself I have not noticed; I must have given cause in some way for others to misunderstand my behavior. He wouldn't have said such a thing without some reason. If I had been attentive and behaved with prudence, I would not have been misunderstood. I have brought harm to the other person and will be judged for it by God".
Notice what he did not do. He did not explore the other person possible negative motive for such an accusation. He did not assume the other person who is trying to discredit him because of envy or other malice. He assumed that there was a fault he had that he needed to better understand. This extra effort is the tax that is needed to keep us on a path of repentance.

Elder Paisios says:
If we don't examine everything in this manner, we won't be able to benefit from anything. This is why we often say about someone, "this person has lost all control." Do you know when control is lost? When we don't observe ourselves carefully. ... As the years pass, man matures spiritually, and if he makes good of past experiences, he progresses more steadily and more humbly. Often even the ups and downs in our struggle help us achieve a positive and steady spiritual march upwards.
This is what is key, to continue to make progress in the way we live and interact with other in this world. As we learn to perfect our own actions, our heart will be opened more and more to the needs of others and to the acceptance of God's love.  We will receive the blessing of His grace more and more abundantly if we learn to tax our faults. We must take advantage of every clue you get from our daily life and continually seek ways to understand our own behavior.

Reference: Elder pAisios of Mount Athos Spiritual Counsels III: Spiritual Struggle, pp 154-156

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