Thursday, May 05, 2011

The Sin of Ananias

When Ananias sold his property and gave a portion of it to the Church, he sinned--not in holding back, but in appearing to give all when he didn't. Barnabas had just sold all of his property and given it to the Church. However, Barnabas had apostolic grace and calling. Barnabas could sell all his property and give it to the Church (without fear and without pride) because he had the grace and calling of an apostle. Ananias did not.

Perhaps Ananias thought that he could do what Barnabas did. Perhaps Ananias thought, "If Barnabas can do it, I can do it." Perhaps he saw the godliness and grace of Barnabas and thought, "if only I do what Barnabas does, then I too will find the grace that Barnabas has found." Perhaps Ananias got the cart before the horse, thinking he could do what a holy man does to become holy too. But then there is the glory part. Barnabas was publicly honoured--or at least widely known--for his act of dispossession. Barnabas could handle it because of who he was, the grace in his heart, and the calling of his life. Ananias couldn't. In fact, I think it was the very expectation of honour (even before the act), that was at work in Ananias impelling him to attempt an ascetic labour too great for him.

Orthodox Christians, in my experience, are often tempted the way Ananias was. Those who are devout, who attend services, read the lives of the saints, and who strive for holiness are sometimes tempted to think that they too can fast or pray or accomplish the great ascetical labours of the saints whom they admire--just because they will to do it. This is a great delusion.

The starting point is poverty of spirit, not will to do.


Jake said...

Father, in a post below you say "St. Gregory of Nyssa says that there are three levels at which we participate in God". What is the source text of this? I would like to expand on this...

Fr. Michael said...

Dear Christopher,
I got it from a secondary source: "Heavenly Participation" by Hans Boersma (p.160) who was quoting from "From Glory to Glory: Texts from Gregory of Nyssa's Mystical Writings" edited and translated by Herbert Musurillo, St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2001 (p.120).
Paraphrasing Boesma: Mystical knowledge proceeds in three steps: first the way of light (you know things, see things and understand things) which lead you to purify yourself through repentance and victory over the passions of soul and body--law or rules and principles and obedience are examples of this way. Then there is the way of cloud, which is contemplation of created things (this would include scripture, but also any created thing). Through this contemplation we know less directly or clearly than the first way for it is a matter of discerning the words (logismoi) of creation in created things. That is, one begins to discern the word within the Word, or what God is saying through a thing or phenomenon or experience. This second way is often connected to appreciation of beauty and feelings of awe and godly fear. The third is the way of darkness. This is beyond all conceptualization or even feelings as we normally understand them. Moses meets God in "Thick Darkness." Here we know nothing except God Himself.
St. Gregory bases these three levels on an allegorical (spiritual) interpretation of Moses' ascent up Mt. Sinai.

Jake said...

Thank you for the explanation and the reference!