Not Judging is Salvation without Effort
by Archpriest Valery Lukianov
The sin of judging others is found to be very prevalent in human actions because it can
be so easily fallen into: censure of others human act can be uttered without any special
effort and it even brings with it a certain pleasure. In judging someone else a person
thus invents an excuse for himself, lulling his conscience with the self-esteem of
thinking that there is no actual condemnation, but he only rightly blames the vice of the
one guilty. While not noticing our own shortcomings and weaknesses which we generously
excuse in ourselves, we nevertheless severely condemn the same vices in others.
"Self-praise and condemnation of others are the most common things among us. The evil
heart, the very rot of rottenness, nevertheless trumpets: 'I am not like the rest of
them.' And how many ways of saying this there are is beyond counting" (Bishop
Theophan the Recluse). "I have seen some committing the gravest sins in secret and without
exposure; and in their supposed purity, they have harshly inveighed against persons who
have had a petty fall in public" (St. John of the Ladder, Step 10:13).
Much is said by the example from daily life mentioned by His Beatitude Metropolitan
Anthony: "Go into the strictest of monasteries where fifty monks pray and read the
word of God while Fr. Steward from morning til night fusses about cabbage, onions, and
fish; he would excel more than the brethren in prayer and contemplation, but for the sake
of obedience waits on tables ... And yet among those who waited at table, and first among
them even, was St. Stephen the Apostle. Do not smite him with the rocks of judgements...
" (Collected Works, Vol. II, p. 192).
Civil judges receive no small remuneration, for they find themselves engaged in the
not-so-easy task of investigating the affairs of others. Why, then, does one so readily
present himself as the severe judge of other men? There is one answer, and each of us
always feels it: we have no desire to know ourselves! Someone was asked, What is most
difficult for him? He replied: "To know oneself." "And what is
easiest?" "To see the shortcomings of our neighbors." For this reason a
person can ramble on for a whole hour on the vices of others, but about his own sins he
can't even say a few words when he comes for confession. "He who has become aware of
his sins has controlled his tongue, but a talkative person has not yet come to know
himself as he should" (Ladder 11:4). "He who knows himself says when he
openly sins: 'Woe is me! As they sin today, so will I not sin tommorrow?'"
Dorotheus, Sermon 6) "Whatever sins we blame our neighbor for, whether bodily or
spiritual, we shall fall into them ourselves. That is certain." (Ladder, 10:9)
Therefore, the fine knower of the heart, St. Isaac the Syrian could conclude: "He who
has come to see himself, will on high come to see the angels."
The injury of the sin of judgement is indeed great, for this sin generates innumerable
pernicious consequences: It shatters the bonds between friends, enkindles quarrels among
relatives, implants envy among people, discredits the good name of a person. In fact, if
someone hears something defamatory about another, can he be in a position to think well of
him? Will he not be prone to denigrate him in his mind and condemn him? And is this
pleasing to God? Let us pay attention to how easily a slanderer begins to touch the
weakness of a neighbor; as soon as he notices that we agree with his condemnation, there
immediately comes from his mouth a thousand words and he covers the wretched victim with
shame from head to toe. And the listener often not only does not stop the sinful
conversation, but adds a little to it.
How then are we to battle with this sin that is so vastly predominant?
Do you not know that the Lord considers non-judgement such a virtue that He promises
forgiveness for all sins and reconciliation with Himselfdeliverance from judgement
and eternal torment: "Judge not, that ye be not judged," (Matt. 7:1), "for
if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you"
(Matt, 6:14). The remembrance of this evangelical testament should bring our thoughts to
our earthly end, to the standing before the terrible and righteous judgement of God.
If God Himself judges no one, as the Scripture says, but has committed all judgement to
the Son (John 522), and if the Son of God came to earth to save sinners, and therefore
says: "I judge no one" (John 8:15), how then can you alone judge him whom the Lord
wishes to save? He doesn't judge, but shows mercy.
"I have known a man who sinned openly," relates St. John of the Ladder, "and
repented secretly; I condemned him as a profligate, but he was chaste before God, having
propitiated Him by a sincere conversion" (Step 10:6). He adds: "You will begin
to be wary of judging the sinful, if you always remember that Judas was in the company of
Christ's disciples, and the thief was in the company of murderers; but it is a wondrous
thing how in a single instant they exchanged places" (Step 10:4). It may be that you
were shown the wounds of your brothers so that you might be concerned for them as the
Samaritan cared for him who was harmed by the robbers. O, beloved friends, remember these
words: "Friendship is written on stone, enmity on water!"
Consider the following circumstances: judgement penetrates into the heart through
frivolous talk about others, whether it be of visitors, or in society, or, regrettably, in
church. Knowing where you are slipping, carefully go around such a place. Thus also with
frivolous conversationswhen you meet someone anywhere, either a guest or of your own
familyimmediately adopt a "defensive" attitude and do not utter doubtful
criticisms of neighbors.
One elder advised his spiritual son to always have a small rock at hand and, "as
soon as you open your mouth idly, then take the rock and hold it, and bring the
conversation imperceptibly around to some other, inoffensive subject. Then you will gain
your neighbor as a friend and peace for your heart." On this the wonderful Ladder
says: "He who knows the fragrance of the fire from on high, runs from a concourse
of men like a bee from smoke; for as the bee is routed by smoke, so is man hampered by
company" (Step 11:11).
The virtue of non-criticism is closely bound up with the gift of silence, which is
compared to a pure, precious metal: talk is silver, silence is golden, for silence is the
mystery of the age to come. Quiet and silence in behavior are the greatest adornment of
the Christian. St. Nilus the Faster advises: "Do not seek greedily the expanses of
life, but it is better to seek out the narrow and close path. For this reason we are given
two ears, and one tongue, so that we might hear more for our salvation than we say."
How just also is the ethical teaching of St. Gregory the Dialogist: "it is more
praiseworthy to silently endure insult, than to conquer it with a reply." And the
Venerable Batiushka Seraphim adds: "No one has ever repented of silence."
Therefore it becomes clear why many pages of the patristic, soul-saving works are
dedicated to the consideration of silence.
Thus the judgement of our neighbors belongs solely to the Lord God, while for us it
would be more proper and better to maintain silence when we see the falls of brethren and
flee frivolous gatherings. The days of our lives are not so many; time flies, and eternity
inevitably come nearer to us with each passing hour. And when will we succeed in repenting
of our own lawlessness? O friends, look into your own souls, "for if anyone could see
his own vices accurately without the veil of self-love, he would worry about no one else
in this life, considering that he would not have time enough for mourning for himself,
even though he were to live a hundred years, and even though he were to see a whole River
Jordan of tears streaming from his eyes. I have observed such mourning and I did not find
in it even a trace of calumny or criticism" (St. John of the Ladder, Step 10:10).
To be unaware of one's own sins, but not those of others is the result of diabolic
temptation and suggestion, for in the words of Climacus, "The demons, murderers as
they are, push us into sin. Or if they fail to do this, they get us to pass judgement on
those who are sinning, so that they may defile us with the stain which we ourselves are
condemning in another" (Step 10:11). Truly it is sometimes better to sin than to
judge the sinner, for sin humbles the soul, while criticism makes one like unto the devil.
The Christian is obliged not only to restrain himself with care, but never to be
ashamed to restrain someone who calumniates another in his presence. "It is better to
say to him: 'Stop, brother! I fall into graver sins every day, so how can I criticize
him?' in this way you will achieve two good things: you will heal yourself and your
neighbor with one plaster" (Ladder, 10:7).
Surely we all have experienced the feeling of remorse of conscience when we see someone
that we have judged die and thus become unable to make an objection to our words. How
often we catch ourselves suddenly beginning to remember not how bad, but how good someone,
who was so annoying to us before, becomes when he passes away. Listen to the following
story which is exceptionally instructive: "A young boy came for the first time into a
cemetery. He read with interest the laudatory epitaphs on the monuments and tombstones.
Having read some ten inscriptions he turned wonderingly to his father: 'Papa, tell me,
where are all the bad people buried?'"...
The aim of life is to be spiritually alive and dead to the senses. A brother came to
Abba Macarius and said to him: "Abba, give me an edifying word on how to be
saved!" The elder told him: "Go to the cemetery and revile the dead." The
brother went, reviled them and threw stones at them. When he returned he told the elder
what had happened. The elder asked him: "And did they say nothing to you?"
"Nothing," he replied. The elder told him: "Tomorrow go back and praise
them." The brother went and praised the dead, saying: "Apostles, saints,
righteous ones!" Then he went to the elder and said: "I extolled them." The
elder asked him: "And did they not answer anything?" The brother said:
"Nothing." The elder told him: "You see how much you reviled them and they
said nothing, and how much you praised them and they said nothing to you. So you, if you
wish to be saved, be like the dead and do not think about the insults of people, nor about
the praises of people, and you can be saved."
Nevertheless, while we are called not to criticize, does this mean that we cannot
expose wrongs in general? Are we really not to say anything against those who do wrong?
Did not the Lord command: if your brother sins before you, then go and expose him? This is
something completely different, that is, to expose the sins of a brother for his
correction. The Lord commands one to tell another of his vices so that one may share in
the salvation of a sinner. Only one should not be severe in discussing it, and not
reprimand him in anger; one must compassionately and meekly awaken the soul which is
weighed down with sins, which are heavy, not by one's condemnation, but with the fear of
God. The greatest good you can do for a fallen brother or someone who has slandered you is
to offer up prayer for him. "If you truly love your neighbor, as you say, then pray
secretly and do not mock the man; for this is the kind of love that is acceptable to the
Lord" (Ladder, Step 10:4).
In a wider sense the Christian should not keep silent when truth is trampled underfoot
or when the teachings of the Church are attacked. With all one's powers and all one's
abilities, each according to his rank and calling, Christians should oppose the powers of
evil, denounce, admonishthrough sermon, word, or pen.
Generally speaking, there are different degrees of censuring one's neighbor. "It
is one thing to slander," teaches Abba
Dorotheus, "another to judge, and
another to disparage. To censure means to say of someone: this person has lied, or
has lost his temper, or has fallen into fornication, or did something of this sort. But to
condemn means to say: this person is a liar, a raving maniac, a fornicator. For thus one
judges the very disposition of his soul, giving sentence upon his entire life.
Disparagement means not only to judge another but to despise him, that is, to look down
upon him and be disgusted with him as with some sort of filth: this is already judging and
much more destructive." (Homily 6)
In as much as we are "the one body of Christ, we are all members of one
another" (Romans 12:5), and should suffer for one another, help one another,
especially in the task of salvation. The closer we are to each other, the closer we are to
God. In his penetrating sermons Abba Dorotheus mentions a marvellous illustration of the
unity with one another: "Suppose that the world is a circle and the center of the
circle is God; the radii, that is, the straight lines which go out from the center of the
circle, are the paths of human life. Thus as the saints come further into the circle in
their desire to be near God, so much do they come closer to one another, and the closer
they are to one another the closer they are to God. And vice versa" (Homily 6).
From all that we have said one can draw the conclusion that each person must learn not
to criticize, as the easiest method to salvation, for the truly, as the sages say: Not
judging is salvation without effort. In confirmation of this we shall mention an example
from The Prologue, where it is related concerning a monk who ate and drank as much
as he wanted and had no desire to pray. He had only one virtue, which no one knew about:
he judged no one but himself. Before he died he became extremely happy, so that the
brethren who came to say farewell and ask his forgiveness noted this and asked: "Are
you really unafraid to die?" And he replied: "Forgive me, I was careless; but
therefore I judged no one; and then an angel showed me my sins and tore up the list saying
that I might depart to the Lord in peace for this alone, that I judged no one." And
he reposed in peace.
If this monk was raised to such heights for this one virtue alone, then what can one
say of those who "fought the good fight" and did not judge? How sweet shall be the
celestial reward for their earthly virtues! Let us also strive on, while earthly life
still breathes in us, to gain, if in even a small measure, the perfection in spirit of
detachments from vanities and aspiration to the heights.
From Orthodox Life, Vol. 38, No. 1, pp. 21-26. Translated from the
Russian in Pravoslavnaya Rus, No. 23, December 14, 1987.