by Fr. George Passias
What part of our body is so important that if we could learn to control just that one part that perhaps as the scriptures say, we could be considered to be a perfect person? What part of our body is it that in a moment’s notice can either establish us in the presence of the saints or abruptly remove us from any semblance of holiness? What part of the body of the person is essentially the door to the soul? When it opens, it exposes the truths, the existence, the pulse and the texture of the being that is within. What part of our body? What part of our body has the ability to kill or to raise-up, to destroy or to build, to heal or to wound, to make whole or to make lame, to love or to hate, to distress or to comfort, to teach or to blind, to give life or to bring death quickly? The Proverbs give us very quickly the answer. In the 18th: “from the fruit of his mouth a person is satisfied, death and life are in the power of the tongue.” Saint James (Iakovos) in his Epistle tell us: “what good is your religion my friend if your tongue has not been bridled? If you deceive your heart with the way you speak your religion is useless to you.” (James 1:26) Our Lord says the following in Matthew: “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things. An evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things. But I say to you that every idle word men may speak they will give account of it in the Day of Judgment. For by your words you will be justified. And by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:36-37)
For a moment let’s think about one of the greatest saints of the Church—Saint Mary of Egypt. Saint Mary was a young girl who had a difficult family life. She couldn’t find peace amongst her father and her mother. She decided to get up and leave and go make it on her own. Yet the hunger in her stomach drove her to use the beauty in her eyes sinfully, in order to make a living. She fell victim to making a living by being a prostitute. She sold her body in order to feed her passions. She lived like this for years. She didn’t know the inside of a Church, yet down-deep in the utter depths of her heart she knew God. Her sins wouldn’t allow her to break through and get into the belief system that was in her heart.
One day she heard that a piece of the actual cross of Christ was going to be placed in a church in Jerusalem. She chose to go there. She wanted to go in and venerate this piece. Something inside of her was calling her to that Holy Cross. When she got there she tried to go in. Yet, some invisible force would not allow her to enter. She tried again while people walking to the right and to the left of her entered without the slightest impediment. She couldn’t walk in. Now she began to be frustrated. Then she finally began to be worried. “My God, My God, have I become so bad that I don’t deserve to enter the front door of the Church.
In those days there was always an icon outside of the Church in case the doors were locked so that one could at least venerate and offer prayers at the front doors of the Church. She fell on her knees in desperation and she stared to cry; “Oh, Virgin Mary, is this from your Son? Is it because of my sins? I will believe, let me enter, I will believe, I will never go back to those sins again.” Her final attempt to enter the Church bathed a she was in her tears, was no longer impeded. Now at once she gained access to her God.
God is a loving God but He is also a discerning God. He looks in to the heart; He looks through the mouth, and He sees the potential of a person in the inner depths of the soul. He saw sincerity. He saw the ability of a lady to become a saint. And so He welcomed her. She went in, fell on her face and kissed the Holy Cross. When she left there, she went out and bought a bag of beans and two loaves of bread. She determined that if I stay in the city there is no way that I am not going to go back to sinning. Therefore, she decided to leave. I have given my word to God. She crossed the Jordan River and went out into the desert to begin what would be a 48-year journey to repentance and saintliness. During that time her bag of beans never emptied and the bread that she had originally purchased never ran-out. She fasted tremendously but was sustained by her Lord. One day, she cried out to God with everything in her heart, “ Oh God, Oh God, if only I could be as one virgin to You; If I could feel in my heart that you have forgiven me and that Your world has cleansed me, made me new and made me to be a child of Yours again.” A voice cried out of the heavens to her; “Mary, with your repentance you are like ten Virgins in my eyes.” She begged God to send her a priest so that she could confess her sins and be ready for the next world. She thought how much she longed for Holy Communion.
Father Zosima was a man entirely different than Mary. From the time he was 8 years old, he fasted and prayed, and by 17 years old, he was a great schema monk. He reached the point in his monastery where he felt he could no longer grow and her prayed; “God show me another place to go, I’m learning to live unchallenged here; teach me and show me Oh Lord where I should go” The Lord sent him to a Monastery in Jerusalem where the monks had a particular custom. Each year during lent, the monks vacated the monastery for 40 days and went into the desert to practice severe fasting and intense prayer. They returned to the monastery in time for Holy Week.
When he was walking out in the desert a most unexpected thing happened to him. He hears a female voice cry to him, “Father Zosima, throw me your robe.” He was perplexed. First of all, she knew his name and secondly, she asked for his robe. “Father Zosima, the sand has destroyed my clothing, throw me your robe so that I can cover myself.” He removed the outer garment of his vestment and handed it over to her. If you look at the icons of Saint Mary today, you still se her with her skin somewhat exposed and the black robe that Father Zosima gave her that was her only covering in the desert. She asked to go to confession. Father Zosima was aghast. “Oh my Lord I have seen our Grace miraculously present in this blessed desert dweller”. She has become icon of repentance.
Here he was listening to Mary reciting to him his life and her life as well. She leaves one request in his soul, “Next year, Father Zosima, bring to me Holy Communion.” The following year he returns with Holy Communion and wonders to himself ‘How will I find this blessed one’. However, he was not to be disappointed. As soon as he arrives at the banks of the Jordan River, there is blessed Mary of Egypt. Uttering only the word “Wait”, she alights the waters of the river and crosses over to Father Zosima. As she approaches she kneels down to receive Holy Communion and returns in the way she arrived atop the waters of the Jordan.
The following year Father Zosima once again returns to the desert during the Great Lent and once again is surprised. He comes upon the weather beaten rasso-covered body of the Saint lying peacefully on the sand. There inscribed on the sand next to her precious head is written the following directions: “Father Zosima please bury the unworthy relics of humble Mary here where she died on Holy Friday.” Father Zosima had given her Holy Communion on Holy Thursday. Where her relics lay was a three days journey from where she had received Holy Communion. How did she get there so soon? Yet she was there in less than a day. What is the point of this account?
How quick we are to condemn. Can one imagine those people who had condemned St. Mary of Egypt as a prostitute, and how they felt as they saw her the upper heights of heaven? Imagine how those who reviled our Lord Jesus Christ felt when they finally saw Who He really was and is? Imagine those who stood by the Cross and railed “if you’re the Christ come down; you saved others, now save yourself and come down and we’ll believe.” Can you imagine what it is going to be like in the after life to see people as saints who we criticized at will in this world while in the next we may be begging them for their prayers and intercessions? Our words leave our mouths ever so superficially. We condemn and destroy at will and at sight, from mouth to mouth, mouse to mouse, and click to click, without really knowing the facts. Saint Basil writes “ the person who listens to rumors is as guilty as the person who spreads them.” Saint John Chrysostom says, “if you are fasting from meat and dairy and fish and oil and even bread and water and you condemn your brother, even if it is Holy Friday, go and eat the meat and fish and dairy products etc. and shut your mouth and don’t condemn your brother. For eating your brother with criticism is far worse than breaking the fast that we hold so dear.”
In closing my friends, I ask you to consider the tongue, which accepts the body and blood of Christ, the very door of the soul. The tongue is able to give glory to God. The tongue that takes a young child or a child in your home, is able to build them up or destroy them. Why do we suffer in the U S from so many children with low self-concept? Could it be that their parents are destroying them without ever even touching them? Are they breaking the bones of their soul and their personhood into pieces with their tongue? In the Greek language there is a famous saying: “the tongue has no bones but it is able to break bones.”
Let us close with this account from the Holy Scriptures. Moses had married an Ethiopian girl. His sister and brother didn’t approve of her. Miriam and Aaron criticized her so harshly. All of a sudden Miriam was covered with leprosy from her head to her foot. She went running to Moses, “Moses you are holy and you talk to God, go and pray to Him to cleanse me.” He asked her, “Miriam what have you done, what have you said?” She told him painfully and regrettingly. Moses said to her, “I forgive you, but I must ask God if He will forgive you.” Moses got down on his knees and begged God to forgive his brother and sister and God responded: “let her remain a leper for one week and then she shall be cleansed.” Look at the power of the tongue; her misguided tongue brought leprosy. His righteous tongue brought cleansing, salvation and forgiveness, and the ear of God. How do you think we should best use our tongue?