An unworthy Deacon, named for the brother of God: James, striving to "work out his salvation with fear and trembling" within the Tradition (paradosis) of the Eastern Orthodox Faith. It is a strange and marvelous journey, and I am accompanied by the fourfold fruit of my fecundity. My wife, the Matushka or Diaconissa Sophia, is my beloved partner in the pursuit of Theosis, and she ranks me in every way.
Last night after Vespers, Father read from The Prologue which included this gem:
MEMORIAL TO A MONK WHO JOYFULLY DIED AND WHO NEVER JUDGED ANYONE IN HIS LIFE This monk was lazy, careless, and lacking in his prayer life; but throughout all of his life, he did not judge anyone. While dying, he was happy. When the brethren asked him how is it that with so many sins, you die happy? He replied, "I now see angels who are showing me a letter with my numerous sins. I said to them, Our Lord said: `stop judging and you will not be judged' (St. Luke 6:37). I have never judged anyone, and I hope in the mercy of God that He will not judge me." And the angels tore up the paper. Upon hearing this, the monks were astonished and learned from it.
May we learn from it too.
In the end it won't matter a lick if we dressed "properly" and attended every service, if we crossed ourselves the "correct" way or stood still during the six psalms of matins. It won't matter if we did the services at their "correct" times, or if we insisted our priests have beards. It won't matter if we said our prayers daily or if we faithfully tithed. It even won't matter if we managed to have our children stand silently like statues during the services. It is all for naught if we are not being moved toward the ability to judge no one.
I'd contend that some of these things (or at least the emphasis upon them) actually hinder us in that regard. But...as the spirit of the story mandates: look into your own heart.
Yes, some of the things that many Orthodox think are so important are potentially impediments to salvation. On some tape or other, I heard Father Hopko tell a terrible story about a man who when to the desert to practice asceticism. The unfortunate result was that he found that his pride just increased by exponentially. At a certain point, he decided what he was doing was futile and he returned to Alexandria. There he ended up involved in an adultery and a murder. The story closes with and then the man finally knew true humility.
On the other hand, the rules of the Church do get us in touch with our limitations if we can use them correctly. We don't actually have to be involved in adultery or murder to achieve at least a little humility. Just noticing that I can't stand still during the six psalms or that I am a much nicer person when consuming large quantities of beef can make me realize at least for a moment that perhaps I shouldn't judge my brother so harshly either. Fortunately, that passes quickly and I can focus on others shortcomings.