Oftentimes, I think about how my actions affect and may influence others. While it is important not to dwell on past sins, it is also important to at least call to mind how our actions, both positive as well as negative, both Christ-like and not Christ-like, influence others, both in the Church and outside of the Church, so that we may make changes to our life. Our actions are never isolated; it is a misconception of our modern times that our individual actions only affect our own self. In this way, many will attempt to justify sinful behavior by saying, “As long as I’m not hurting anyone, I am free to do what I want with myself”, or, “What is kept private in my own home cannot hurt others.”
These statements couldn’t be further from the truth. What we do with ourselves and what many think doesn’t hurt others does, in fact, hurt others. The effect may not be immediate, or may be one that we do not even see (either physically, in that the effect occurred no where near us, or as a result of our spiritual blindness, in which we fail to notice an evil act/event that we physically saw), but that does not mean that no effect exists. By drawing away from God’s grace through sin, we lose the strength that His grace provides so that we may act rightly. So, those sins which we may commit in the privacy of our own home or against our own self (those sins which supposedly only affect the individual committing the sin or those in our own home) in turn affect us and weaken us from doing that which is right when we are interacting with others in public. As a result, we may end up hurting others and might also influence others in a way that will lead them to sin as a result of our not being a model of Christ to them. Of course, as Orthodox Christians, we have the Mystery of Confession to restore God’s grace, and those who are not Orthodox Christians have the ability to accept baptism, in which one truly begins one’s life in Christ. So, while a sin may seem to be private or only affect us alone, this is not actually the case. This is further reinforced by the fact that in the early days of the Church, the Mystery of Confession was done in public.
Our actions ultimately affect those in the Church, as well as outside the Church. We, as Orthodox Christians, must remember that we might be the only or one of few Orthodox Christians that many will meet their entire lives (depending on the part of the country that one lives in, an individual may have more interaction with Orthodox Christians than in another part of America), and hence, we must be the best model of His Church as we possibly can, for, as Matthew 5:16 says, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” Our actions also affect those who are already Orthodox Christians: good actions will undoubtedly influence our brothers and sisters in Christ to also act rightly, and vice versa.
Saint Cosmas the Aetolian also notes the concern that we should have for the salvation of those around us: “Studying the holy and sacred Gospel, I found in it many and different teachings which are all pearls, diamonds, treasures, riches, joy, gladness eternal life. Among the other things I also found this teaching in which Christ says to us: no Christian, man or woman, should be concerned only with himself, how he can be saved, but must be concerned also with his brethren so that they may not fall into sin.”
So, it is important from time to time to reflect on our actions and think about how we might be affecting the lives of others. We may find some areas of our life where we are positively affecting the lives of others, through God’s grace alone, and if so, give thanks to God. But we must not ignore the often more difficult task of acknowledging where we might be affecting others in a negative, non-Christ-like way, and hence possibly leading them into sin. If we are living the Orthodox life as it should be lived, we will be participating in the Mystery of Confession regularly, and reflecting on our actions prior to Confession will provide us with the opportunity to see how we are affecting others. For those that might find this article that are not part of the Orthodox Christian Church, you should seek out the One, True Church of Christ that is the Orthodox Church so that you, too, may partake of the Mysteries (sacraments) of Confession and Communion and have life in Christ and, in turn, affect those around you in a more positive manner, through God’s grace.
Through the prayers of the Theotokos, O Savior, save us!