One of the metaphors commonly employed by the Holy Fathers and Mothers of the Church has to do with erring to the left or to the right. Jesus has called us to walk the narrow way, to pass through the narrow (strait) gate. We err when we do not walk in the narrow path, which means to live according to His commandments. However, we can also err by tending too far to the left or right in walking this narrow way. Consistently for the Fathers of the Church, the left has represented leniency while the right has represented strictness.
However, there is also another way we err in walking the narrow path. We err when we judge others who seem to be either too strict or too lenient, too far to the right or too far to the letf as they attempt to walk the narrow way.
It seems to me that one of the reasons why we judge one another in this way is that we are insecure. We feel that if the level of strictness in our lives were appropriate, then others would be as strict (or lenient) as we think ourselves to be. It is as if “love your neighbor” could be clearly and consistently applied if only we could all agree on the definition of the terms—“But who is my neighbor?” the lawyer asked Jesus. But the narrow way is not lived by agreeing on narrow definitions.
Human beings are persons in the image of God. We share a common humanity and yet differ each in his or her callings, gifts and abilities—and perhaps even more importantly—in our wounds and weaknesses, for these are what are healed in following Christ’s commandments. A wise spiritual father knows this. He or she [for my first Orthodox spiritual father was a mother] is like a doctor who prescribes medicine and therapy based on a patient’s particular diseases and particular constitution; however, the medicine that would heal one can kill another, the physical therapy that can restore one would break the bones of another.
As we walk together this narrow way of Christ’s commandments, let us each trust the advice of our own spiritual father; and let us each trust the other to the care of their spiritual father. Let us assume that the one who seems too strict or lenient is merely following the advice of his or her confessor. Let us assume that this difference is because the other is better, higher, healthier, than we are. By taking the lower seat, we save ourselves from the poison of judging others.