“And Cain said to Abel his brother, Let us go out into the plain; and it came to pass that when they were in the plain Cain rose up against Abel his brother and slew him.” Tuesday in the Second Week of Great Lent - At Vespers,
Today the scripture gives us an account of the first murder in human history. Cain murdered his brother Abel because of jealousy:
“ And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering: (5) But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.” (Gen 4:4-5)
How stealthily jealousy operates! Cain merely suggests that they take a walk into the field, all the time hiding in the darkness of his heart his plans.
How powerful our secrets are! If we look at ourselves carefully we would understand how they control us. Our secret feelings, or likes and dislikes, our irritations about and judgment of others are our cruel taskmasters. They are like Cain, making seemingly innocent suggestions to us, and leading us cunningly into sin.
Cain lied to his brother; a jealous man always is also a liar. His lie was not in words, but in intent. We lie to our brothers. Our lie is not in words, but in our thoughts, seemingly private musings, which we forget that God sees.
In the old law, it was forbidden to kill; in the new law, we understand the real meaning behind this rudimentary prohibition: we are not even to think evilly of our brother. We are not to be angry with him, or jealous, or clutch to our breasts, like some greedy miser holds coins, our carefully cultivated feelings of having been treated unfairly or slighted in some way.
“ Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: (22) But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.” (Mat 5:21-22)
We must not be like Cain, but let us keep watch over our thoughts. His sin began with his secret thoughts. A Christian considers his thoughts to be as significant as his words; after all, the Lord knows both equally well. The model for how a Christian is to think and speak, with honesty, and no hidden agenda is summed up by our Lord:
But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil. (Mat 5:37)
In other words, do not do things because of pretense! Recognize that there are hidden motivations in the dark recesses of your soul; it is not enough to merely feel that you are sincere, you must actively examine yourself to ensure that you are sincere.
Jealously is a common hidden motivation for the things we do, say, think and feel, but there are many more hidden motivators, such as: avarice, lust, laziness, and of course, the dark passion that enervates all of these: pride.
How do we escape, from so many traps? How are we to be, as St Andrew suggests:
“Winged with action, resolve and contemplation, (and) save your life like a gazelle from the noose.” (Great Canon, Ode 6)
Examination of conscience is the first and foremost action we must take.
We must also firmly resolve to take another, much more difficult action. We must do good to others even when we do not want to. There are two great difficulties in this podvig of a true Christian.
At the outset, we must force ourselves to do something we do not want to do. This can be bitter and difficult for the soul, but with practice, we will feel great peace and sweetness.
The second great difficulty is more subtle, but very powerful. The Evil one gets our ear, and tells us that is we are doing some good for someone we do not like, that we are being hypocrites. No! We are hypocrites if we call God our Father, and do not behave as His son or daughter!
In doing good to others even when we are not so inclined, and even when we harbor bitter feelings, if we do so to force ourselves to follow the commandments, then we are not hypocrites. We are like the son who said to his father that he would not go into the field to labor, but afterward repented and went.
“A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard. (29) He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went. (30) And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not. (31) Whether of them twain did the will of his father? They say unto him, The first.” (Mat 21:28-31)
8. And Cain said to Abel his brother, Let us go out into the plain; and it came to pass that when they were in the plain Cain rose up against Abel his brother and slew him. 9. And the Lord God said to Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not, am I my brother's keeper? 10. And the Lord said, what hast thou done? The voice of thy brother's blood cries to me out of the ground. 11. And now thou art cursed from the earth which has opened her mouth to receive thy brother's blood from thy hand. 12. When thou tillest the earth, then it shall not continue to give its strength to thee: thou shalt be groaning and trembling on the earth. 13. And Cain said to the Lord God, My crime is too great for me to be forgiven. 14. If thou castest me out this day from the face of the earth, and I shall be hidden from thy presence, and I shall be groaning and trembling upon the earth, then it will be that any one that finds me shall slay me. 15. And the Lord God said to him, Not so, any one that slays Cain shall suffer seven-fold vengeance; and the Lord God set a mark upon Cain that no one that found him might slay him.
“Search the Scriptures” is a podcast on "Ancient Faith Radio". It is a series of lectures by Presvytera and Dr. Jeannie Constantinou. She covers this text at: http://audio.ancientfaith.com/searchthescriptures/sts_2009-02-21.mp3
Priest Seraphim 2009. St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas
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