ON DIVINE JUSTICE

 

“For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 5:20)



I always wondered how someone could become a saint and what was the distinctive trait, which made the saints receptive to God’s grace. One day, I went to Father Paisios and asked him:
- Elder, what do saints have that makes them different from the rest of us and thus they receive the grace of God?
- Our saints had divine justice instead of human justice, he replied.
What is divine justice? I asked him once again.


He answered by telling me some charming stories:
- Suppose, two men are sitting at the table to eat. In front of them, there is a plate with ten peaches. If one of them greedily eats seven peaches leaving three for his friend, he is being unfair to him. This is injustice.
Instead, if he says: “Well, we are two and the peaches are ten. So, each one of us is entitled to eat five peaches.” If he eats the five peaches and leaves the other five for his friend, then he applies human justice. That is why, many times, we go to court to find human justice.
However, if he understands that his friend likes peaches very much, he can pretend that he is not very fond of them and eat only one, and then says to him: “please eat the rest of the peaches, as I don’t really like them; besides, my stomach aches and I should not eat any more.” This person has divine justice; he prefers to be unfair to himself by human standards and be rewarded for his sacrifice by God’s grace, which he will abundantly receive.
I will tell you another story, so you can have a better understanding. If someone tells me: “Father, you must leave your cell because it belongs to me. Go down and stay by the cypress tree (which is located in the garden of the cell).” If I have divine justice, I will gladly accept it, thank him for his offer and be satisfied, because he allowed me to have my cypress tree back. However, if I acted according to human justice, because this is what I wish to apply to my life, I would reject his offer and start arguing with him, and eventually end up in court.


The true Christian must never condemn, or press charges against his fellow men, even if someone takes by force his clothes. There is a difference between those people who believe in Christ and those who do not. Christians abide by the law of divine justice whereas the unfaithful ones by the law of human justice.


Human justice is zero compared to divine justice. Our Lord was the first one to apply divine justice. Neither did He find excuses for Himself when He was being accused, nor protested when people spat on Him, or threatened when He was suffering. He patiently and silently endured everything, without reacting in the least. He even let them tear His clothes off; thus God was ridiculed for standing naked in the presence of His own creations. The most important thing was that He did not only seek help from human justice, but, instead, He justified His persecutors and prayed to His Father to forgive them. “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Lk 23:34).


Unfortunately, we do not follow the example of God and never cease to condemn others in order, for example, to take back the money they owe us, sometimes demanding also its interest. Consequently, what appears at first like justice turns out to be the beginning of an injustice.


Some people say that we should not let others, especially Christians, usurp our property, for it is our forebearance that makes them act unjustly. This is a wiseless excuse indicating that we love our material belongings more than our souls. When we neglect our prayer and spiritual work, and instead take to court the people who treat us unjustly, we obviously consider our material possessions more valuable than the salvation of our soul, as the command of the Gospel that says “And of him who takes away your goods do not ask them again,” (Lk 6:30) if, according to Apostle Paul, we cannot gladly tolerate the looting or stealing of our possessions, bearing in mind that the pressing of charges and return of our belongings will not erase the sin off the greedy robber.


Hence, it is good for us to endure the rudeness of those who wrong us, and pray for them to be released from greediness through repentance. We shouldn’t be asking to get back whatever has been taken away from us. God’s justice aims at man himself and hopes that the greedy person will return to Christ, free from sin. God’s justice has no interest in material possessions themselves.


When someone wavers between human and divine justice, he resembles the one who sometimes worships God and other times the idols.
Divine justice is against human law. Human law is inflexibly equal to all, for it never deviates, but attributes justice to everyone, by putting more emphasis on its regulations than on each individual person. However, divine justice at times deviates and is sympathetically granted to all; it doesn’t mistreat people who deserve punishment, while it plentifully rewards the praiseworthy ones.


So, divine justice and charity is an expression of God’s sympathy towards humanity, whereas human justice and fair judgment tend to be an expression of ill-will. Human justice exists to bar the evildoings of malicious people. Just as dry weed cannot grow where there is a fire burning, divine justice cannot co-exist with impartial judgment. The person who has trust in divine justice is neither upset when treated unfairly, nor seeks his justice; on the contrary, he accepts the false accusations as if they were true, and does not try to convince others that he has been slandered; instead he asks to be forgiven.
Some of our saints called themselves intemperate, without of course being so, because they hoped and trusted in divine justice. Others endured the accusation of adultery, a sin they detested, and undertook the task of bearing its consequences. They tolerated it because they firmly believed in divine justice; that is, even if they were treated unjustly from a human point of view, they hoped divine justice, which neither makes mistakes, nor forgets, would divinely act at the right time.


Justice is like a cork; no matter how hard we press it to the bottom of the sea, it will always come back to the surface. Therefore, we should endure with pleasure any kind of injustice done to us for the sake of Christ. He urged us to always seek God’s justice and “all these things shall be yours as well” (Mt 6:33). When we apply divine justice to our lives, we will always be justified.


I will tell you an incident, which is indicative of how God rewards those who love, apply and seek divine justice, and therefore prefer to be treated unfairly by human standards.


One day, one of the pilgrims said to me:
- Elder, I constantly read the Book of Psalms and have noticed that the psalms of David refer to two categories of people; the righteous people whom God will reward: “The righteous flourish like the palm tree, and grow like the cedar in Lebanon” (Ps 92:12), “For the Lord is righteous, he loves righteous deeds…”(Ps 11:7), “for the Lord knows the way of the righteous…”(Ps 1:6), “Rejoice in the Lord, oh righteous! Praise befits the upright” (Ps 33:1), “When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears, and delivers them out of their troubles” (Ps 34:17), “For the righteous will never be moved; he will be remembered for ever. He is not afraid of evil tidings; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord” (Ps 112; 6-7), “…Lord loves the righteous…the way of the wicked he brings to ruin” (Ps 146: 8-9); and the unjust ones for whom He foresees evil in their lives: “for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish” (Ps 1:6), “The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked, and his soul hates him that loves violence” (Ps 11:6), “As smoke is driven away, so drive them away; as wax melts before fire, let the wicked perish before God! But let the righteous be joyful; let them exult before God!” (Ps 68:2-3).


- I had a personal experience of this myself, the pilgrim went on, and I would like to tell you the story:
I come from a poor family; my father owned 5-6 pieces of land, which he cultivated to earn our daily living. One day, my father suddenly passed away and we were left with our mother. My five brothers decided we should sit down and discuss what will become of my father’s inheritance, as he did not have the time to write a will. They started arguing about who was going to inherit the most fertile piece of land.


I, being the youngest one and more withdraw to myself, was just sitting in a corner waiting to see which piece of land they would end up giving me. After each one took his own share, they gave me a piece of land which was sandy, and thus could not be cultivated and was located in a deserted and uninhabitable area.


After some years, I got married and due to financial difficulties, I left for Germany with my wife. With the help of God, I managed to find a job and my family and I lived quite comfortably. We stayed in Germany for twenty years. During these years, I worked hard and was able to expand my business. At one point, we decided to move back to Greece and transfer our business there as well. We had completely forgotten about the piece of land I had inherited from my father, but apparently God hadn’t. While we were away in Germany, many hotels and tourist complexes had been built on this “deserted and uninhabitable” area resulting in a tremendous increase of its value. My piece of land was greatly sought after and the offers from the interested parties were highly rated. I decided to have an auction for it and its price amounted to several million drachmas. Finally, I sold it to the one who gave me the best offer. Since I earn enough money to live a comfortable life, my family and I wish to give a portion of this money to a charitable cause and I came to seek your advise.


- What are your brothers doing? I asked him.
- They cultivate their lands for a living.
- First, you should financially assist your brothers, so they will not have any complaints against you and the rest you can give wherever you think is best.


The justice of God always reigns, Father Paisios went on. It might delay for a while, but will eventually appear in our lives. The Lord says that our justice must exceed the one of the Pharisees, because they were only aiming at human justice. That is why they were involved in punishments, trials, imprisonments, quarrels, and tried to protect their own rights and could not tolerate the looting of their belongings or any injustice done to them. Christ, however, assured each one of us that “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. You have heard that it was said to the men of old (in the old days, the Old Testament law was trying to free man from injustice through human justice, and thus prepare him to accept the divine one)…Eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth (this is human justice). But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if anyone would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you… For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?...You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:20-48).


Concluding the subject on divine justice, Father Paisios added with a charming discretion:
- A monk must apply divine justice to his life. He can let others take his cell and everything else he owns, if they wish to do so. On the contrary, I don’t believe a family man should apply divine justice and become the reason for the rest of his family members to be upset. They can live according to divine justice, provided they all agree to do so. If you are a monk, you can give your cell to others and wander around by yourself with just your cassock on; in general, it is easier for a monk to endure any kind of injustice or deprivation. When others depend on you, you must always take them into consideration, so they will not end up suffering or being dissatisfied.

In June 19…, on St. Paisios day, the Elder asked me to join him at 1:30 a.m. and serve the Divine Liturgy. (We were only the two of us; the Elder did not let anyone else come because he did not wish to give a special meaning to his name day.) When the service was over, we sat to have a sweet. As he was treating me to sweets, he began talking about divine justice.
He said that God does not listen to our prayers, because we are not righteous people and treat our fellow men unjustly; our all night prayers are in vain and God will not listen to us, unless we correct ourselves. Each one of us looks after himself and ignores the others. So, God cannot look after us. If we acquire divine justice, ignore ourselves, and love God and our fellow men, then God will take care of us and will see that we have everything.
When I was in the army fighting the war and the enemies were attacking us with no mercy, I sought protection inside a basin. Some minutes later, one of the soldiers asked me:
- Arsenios, can I also get in the basin with you as I am also in danger.
I told him to get in. However, the basin was too small and could not fit both of us. When he got in, he took up all the space in order to avoid the bullets and pushed me aside. Then, another soldier came and asked if he could also get inside. I said yes, and went out being totally exposed to the flying bullets. Suddenly, a bullet passed so close by me that it stripped off some of my hair; fortunately, it did not injure my skull at all. You see, when you cannot protect yourself, God does.



Priestmonk Christodoulos (1998) “Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain”
Holy Mountain.


 

 

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