No one can live without sin, few know how to repent in such a way that their sins are washed as white as fleece, but there is one thing which we all can do; when we can neither avoid sin, nor repent truly, we can then bear the burden of sin, bear it patiently, bear it with pain, bear it without doing anything to avoid the pain and the agony of it, bear it as one would bear a cross; not Christ’s cross, not the cross of true discipleship, but the cross of the thief who was crucified next to Him. Didn’t the thief say to his companion who was blaspheming the Lord: We are enduring because we have committed crimes; He endures sinlessly… And it is to him, because he had accepted the punishment, the pain, the agony, the consequences indeed of evil he had committed, of being the man he was, that Christ said, ‘Thou shalt be with Me today in Paradise…’
Words from a Russian staretz, one of the last elders of Optina (shared on a blog by Fr. Stephen Freeman).
He was giving me the picture of a man snarled in a tangle, helpless to get free.
I knew that he didn’t have the strength to get free. His life was driven by a kind of flywheel. He had submitted to it and accepted it. It was turning fast. To slow down or stop it and come to a place that was moving with the motion only of time and loss and slow grief was more, that day, than he could imagine.
I knew too that it was more than he could bear. He was in a way given over to machines, but he is not a machine himself. Right then, he could not bear the thought of coming back to stand even for a few hours by his dead father in the emptiness he once filled. He said he would come as soon as he could.
…And then there was the funeral. The sixth of May. Eleven o’clock in the morning. Not twenty minutes beforehand, Mattie came. He was standing by the coffin, flustered and shaken, everybody looking at him, before unrecognized him and could believe it was him. He had flown to Cincinnati, rented a car, dashed down the interstate, and made it barely in time. And he had to hurry back one breath after the preacher said the final amen. I had to think of all that it had cost, of all the engines that had run, just to give one man a few minutes of ordinary grief at his dad’s funeral, but I was completely glad to see him.”
From Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry (164-165).
Dorothy Sayers, in the introduction to her translation of The Song of Roland, describes the contemporary notion of manly strength in contrast to the weeping and fainting of Emperor Charlemagne. Her reference of the “tough guy” with a cigarette brings to mind Humphrey Bogart in the film Casablanca:
Here too, I think we must not reckon it weakness in [Charlemagne] that he is overcome by grief for Roland’s death, that he faints upon the body and has to be raised up by the barons and supported by them while he utters his lament. There are fashions in sensibility as in everything else. The idea that a strong man should react to great personal and national calamities by a slight compression of the lips and by silently throwing his cigarette into the fireplace is of very recent origin. By the standards of feudal epic, Charlemagne’s behaviour is perfectly correct. Fainting, weeping, and lamenting is what the situation calls for. The assembled knights and barons all decorously follow his example. (Page 15)