Q&As to a Priest about Sins

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We always welcome new people, and enjoy having a conversation with you. Interested in our content? Have a question that concerns you or does not let you sleep at night? Want to find out more about the doctrine, teachings or practices of the Church, and how they are different from the other churches? Wish to hear the Christian Orthodox perspective on an ethical or social question? We will be happy to take your questions, share our views and hear back from you. Use the form on this page to ask your question to Father Andrey Lemeshonok, prior of Saint Elisabeth Convent.Please allow two to four weeks to receive your answer. A copy will be sent to your e-mail. Prepare to wait longer during the Lenten weeks and peak times. Please indicate your gender and country (they will not be published on the site) to help Father Andrey personalise his answer.

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Question

I ask for your blessing, Father. First I would like to thank you for all you do in serving the Lord and the example you have given us of edifying all your neighbours. Secondly, I wanted to ask you about an incident and how it can be resolved. A couple of weeks ago on my way back home after the Divine Liturgy a homeless man asked for money. He asked for a certain amount but I told him I could not give him that much as I did not have enough in my account. He kept imploring me to give the amount he asked for and I kept telling him I did not have it. However this was not true. I did not have it in my main account but did in another account and it would have been easy to transfer it and give him what he asked. However I stuck to my lie and did not give him what he asked. I was selfish and greedy with my money and was scared that I would not have enough for future expenses if I gave to him on that day. I lacked faith in God and forgot that it is Him who gives and takes away. I was greedy where I should have been generous. The money was given to me freely and I should have given it freely. Moreover, I knew that it was not to the homeless man I lied to but to Christ. It was not the homeless man I denied and refused to help but Christ. And I said to myself is this not Christ asking me but then completely forgot to see Christ in him when I wanted to keep my material possessions. I also saw many other homeless people at the same time who did not have food or drink and where I could have gotten it for them I did not. And so have denied Christ when He was hungry and thirsty. This has happened many times where I could have helped but did not. I always feel bad afterwards but forgot to show mercy in the moment. I want to confess these things but don't know how to tell my Parish Priest and am not yet fully an Orthodox Communicant so cannot be absolved. How can I stop these sins and repent? Thank you for everything. Asking for your prayers, Father.

Answer
Take baptism sooner, not later. Your soul seems to be in great pain. Still, I am taking the liberty to give you some advice. I do not know about your town, but the people who beg for money at the shopping centre next to our convent spend it on alcohol. I am saying this because I know many of them personally from our farmstead. Some people give them money, and after a few days a few are found dead, others come down with a heart attack, and many have a tremor in their hands. But I am not generalising. Some people need food, not alcohol; they come to our Convent and we feed them. I do not know how things are in your land, but we also allow them to do some work and earn some money. One has to exercise some judgement in giving, as you see. Yet I am not saying that we should not give. When we give, we give to God. I see from what you write that you have a kind heart, you are not indifferent to the pain and suffering of others, and it gives me great joy. Do not let your soul grow callous. Taking baptism is very important in this regard; we must allow God's grace to act on us through baptism, by becoming a member of the Orthodox Church. It takes prayer to give well. As one wise elder said, "One must let our hand sweat and then look if someone needs our gift or not." In my thirteen years of experience as a guard at the Metropolitan Church in Minsk, I saw many people begging. Some of them were very good actors, many brought their small children along with them. But later, I found out that many were just using their children to lie more convincingly. I do not mean any evil here, and I would rather have them stop doing all that. I am only sharing with you my sad experience of many years. I met some of these people later at our farmstead, and they said to me, "Father, we lied to you. Please forgive us, but we needed the money.” We forgive them, of course. But we do know that many are genuinely in need, and we have to think carefully about how we can best help them. What would be best for them, in their situation? Recently, our sisters travelled to Moscow and saw a poster asking for donations for Mount Athos. Standing in front of it was a bunch of pious-looking men with prayer books. One of our sisters approached them to ask some questions. Through our connections on Mount Athos, we found out that they were lying. Our sisters called their bluff, but they told them to go away. How sad! People thought they were donating for a good cause, but these men were just making money. In this world, we have to be careful about giving. We also had an incident at our convent. Two men came to stay with us. One posed as a priest and told us that he was on a mission from the Patriarch. He brought with him a man from Danilov Monastery. They collected many prayer notes and a sum of money. They confessed to us that they were travelling like that all over the place to make money. They did not look suspicious at all - they knew the scripture and said the right words. They were like actors, but their theatre is from the devil. But I did not mean to discourage you. Forgive me for my negativity.

Archpriest Andrey Lemeshonok

Question

What should someone do if they have lied to a Priest? For example, in my case, I was talking to a Priest after the service (It was my first visit to this Church, as I am not an Orthodox Christian officially, but come from a different background and hope to undertake catechism) and because I was new and came alone, I was overwhelmed by the experience and couldn't control my tears and nervousness and the Priest, noticing my watery eyes, asked if I was feeling unwell or had hay-fever, like he did. Unfortunately, I lied and told him I had hay-fever, although I do not. I am very sorry for having lied and do not know what I should do. Thank you. (From the UK- London)

Answer
You should not consider this a lie. You came to church, you felt overwhelmed, excited and anxious. The priest noticed that. He may have made a joke to make you feel more relaxed, but it did not work as he had expected. You answered with an instinctive ‘yes’. You did not mean this as a lie. There is no need to disparage yourself over this incident. You came to Church, God’s grace descended on you, and you were excited and overwhelmed. There is nothing unusual about it. You are at the beginning of your journey. You are preparing to get baptised. Be sure to follow through on it. In your place, I would not lose too much sleep over what happened. I have seen many people come to church with no emotion at all; nothing worried them or made them nervous. They were self-confident, and they thought they were fine. Many were curious and took great interest in what was going on, but nothing seemed to reach their hearts; they were completely numb to God’s touch. I believe that you are in a much better situation. Hay fever or not, the tears in your eyes were a good sign.

Archpriest Andrey Lemeshonok

Question

I’d like to know if affirmations (i.e., short statements containing a verbal formula, which is repeated multiple times to plant the required image or attitude into one’s subconscious, thus improving one’s mental and emotional condition) and positive thinking are sinful or not?

Answer
I believe that an Orthodox person should use the practices established by the Holy Fathers. We don’t find anything like the methods you’ve described in the writings of the Holy Fathers. We can inculcate anything we want in ourselves. For instance, we can repeat to ourselves that we are holy and that we love everyone. Isn’t it better if we simply admit the truth that we aren’t holy and that we don’t love anyone? And then ask the Lord to heal our sick souls. Perhaps, that psychological method might help a person who lives as he or she pleases. A believer can make use of the enormous wealth of spiritual living collected by thousands of ascetics spanning dozens of generations. All that immense wealth is accumulated in the Church. We can experience live interaction with God. That’s why affirmations are inappropriate.

Archpriest Andrey Lemeshonok

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