A HOMILY FOR THE FEAST OF SAINT
PIMEN THE GREAT

(Aug. 27/Sept. 9)

 

About Judging Others

 

          Brothers and sisters!

 

          Today we commemorate, with the Holy Great-martyr Phanourius, one of the most important of the ancient fathers of the Egyptian desert, Saint Pimen the Great.  Abba Pimen’s eminence among the founders of Christian monasticism is clearly shown by the Egyptian Paterica, the collections of the sayings of the first monks.  In the Paterica, sayings attributed to Saint Pimen and stories about him outnumber those pertaining to any of the other desert fathers.

          Born around the year 340, Saint Pimen took up his abode in the wilderness of Scete with two of his brothers, Anubius and another, whose name is unknown to us.  After living some years in Scete, Pimen abandoned his cell because his fame was attracting so many visitors.  For years he wandered about, but finally he returned and opened his door, teaching and consoling those seeking counsel.  He died around the year 450, at the age of approximately 110. 

          Among the many edifying stories involving Saint Pimen which have come down to us, a number relate to our propensity to judge others.  Here is one of them: 

          Once, some brethren came to Abba Pimen and asked him, “If we see someone sinning, should we keep silence and cover his sin?”

          “If you cover your brother’s sin, God will cover yours,” answered the saint.

          “I hear shameful things about a certain heedless brother,” continued one of the visitors.  “I am so scandalized by them, that I am thinking of leaving.”

          “Is what you have heard true?” inquired Saint Pimen. 

          “It is.  The person who told me is reliable,” said the brother.

          “He is not reliable,” said the elder.  “If he were, he would never have spoken ill of the brother.  Do not believe anything about your brother which you have not seen or, rather, do not believe it even if you have seen it.”

          “But what answer shall I give to God if, having seen my brother sin, I fail to correct him?” protested the monk.

          The elder replied, “You will say, ‘Lord!  Thou didst instruct us to take the beam out of our own eye before removing the little twig out of our brother’s eye.  Lo, I have fulfilled Thy command.’”

          Dear Christians, it has been some seventeen hundred years since the great Abba Pimen spoke these words, yet they are as beneficial for the soul’s salvation and as timely as on the day they were spoken.  So, let us take a few moments and consider exactly what they mean for us…

          First, under most circumstances we simply have no right at all to judge others, for according to the Apostle James, “There is one Lawgiver and Judge, Who alone is able to save and to destroy.  Who art thou that judgest another?”1  Or as Saint Paul says, Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth.  Yea, God is able to make him stand.2  When we judge others, we seat ourselves upon God’s throne.  Is this not the utmost arrogance?

          Second, we must refrain from judging others, if for no other reason than because we usually have no real idea of their actual inner state.  What man knoweth the things of a man, asks Saint Paul, save the spirit of man which is in him?3  It is very easy to err in our judgments on others, because frequently we do not know all the relevant information and circumstances.  Even when we do have some idea of these, we usually judge only on the basis of external factors or what we have seen of the person in the past, without knowing his actual inner state at the present.  This is why we must in almost every instance suspend judgment on others and give them the benefit of the doubt, leaving assessment of their deeds and inner disposition to God and to those charged by God with oversight:  parents over children, for example; or spiritual fathers over spiritual children, or supervisors over subordinates.  Yet even in such cases, let the judgment be passed with charity and discretion.

          Not infrequently, it happens that while we are condemning our brother for his sin, he has already long since turned to God in repentance and obtained forgiveness.  Meanwhile, we are complaining about him to any number of third parties, with the result that we have become tools in the hands of the devil, whose real purpose in inciting the original incident was to spread his net as far as possible and drag not one or two, but numerous people into it.  And so, it turns out that we become the chief malefactors, tempting many and condemning our brother, when perhaps we ought to be praising his humility and repentance.

          Third, we should be absolutely terrified of judging others, because by so doing, we draw down upon ourselves God’s righteous judgment.  Christ our God Himself puts it as plainly as possible:  Judge not, that ye be not judged.  For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged:  and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.4  How often we fall into the very same sins we condemn in others!  And even if we do not fall into those sins exactly, we fall into others hardly less grave.  Therefore, writes the great Paul, thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest:  for wherein thou judgest another, thou comdemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things.5

          Fourth, we have no business judging others when life is so short and our days here so uncertain.  We have many more important things to accomplish during the brief time God has allotted us on earth.  Chiefly, we should be working out our own salvation with much diligence and fear.  As the great Apostle says, “Examine yourselves, and prove your own selves.”6  This is what should absorb our attention!  But do we devote anything like the effort we should to self-examination and self-rectification?  Are we not instead almost totally fixated on what others are doing?  Much better to enter into the inner closet of our own soul, to observe and assess our own thoughts, desires, intentions, schemes, worries, and concerns, not to say our own behaviors and words.  When the Saviour commands us to cast the beam out of our own eye, He is ordering us to direct our attention to ourselves, to our shortcomings, passions, and faults; and more:  to pluck these out of ourselves, to eradicate them, no matter how painful this turns out to be.

          Nevertheless, there are a very few, very narrow circumstances in which we not only can, but perhaps must pass judgment, one of which I mentioned earlier, namely when we have direct charge over someone else.  Saint Basil the Great mentions two others.  “I think,” writes the holy hierarch, “that there are two circumstances in which one is permitted to speak ill of another.  The first is when we must take counsel with others as to how to correct the sinner.  The second is when we must warn others who, out of ignorance, might fall in with a bad man, taking him for good.  The Apostle cautions us against keeping company with such a person, lest he enmesh us in his sins.  Thus Saint Paul himself warned Timothy, Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil: of whom be thou ware also.7  But whoever without such need speaks ill of another, desiring to proclaim his faults or blacken his reputation, such a one is a slanderer, even if what he says is true.”

          Fearsome words indeed, dear brothers and sisters!  So let us remember what another great teacher of monasticism, Saint John of the Ladder, says on this subject:  “The short road to forgiveness of sins is, Judge not!  If you do not judge, you will not be judged.”

          Let us all beseech the Lord that He open our eyes to our own sins and failings, and that by His all-powerful grace He enable us to eradicate in ourselves the soul-destroying, damnable passion of judging others.  Amen.

 

1  James 4:12-13

2. Rom. 14:4

3. I Cor. 2:11

4. Matt. 7:1-2

5. Rom. 2:1

6. II Cor. 13:5

7. II Tim. 4:14-15