Many of us judge people by their sins. This is a common mistake and we learn that it was also common in the early church too.
St. Augustin in his Letter 211 (c. 424) contained the phrase Cum dilectione hominum et odio vitiorum, which translates roughly to “With love for mankind and hatred of sins.” The phrase has become more famous as “love the sinner but hate the sin”
Many people do exactly that - judge a person by their sins. This is what we should not do. In order to understand why, let us look at exactly what sin really is.
Sin is separation from God. It is the broken relationship between Man and God, and the work of Christ is to restore that relationship, to bring us into communion with God again. GK Chesterton said that when we defend the Christian faith, the obvious starting point is to talk about sin. The world may try to deny the reality of God, the reality of Christ, but it cannot deny the reality of sin. But he also said that the new theology does exactly that: it craftily denies the existence of sin. He gave the example of a man skinning a live cat. A normal person witnessing such an act would conclude one of two things: either that God does not exist, or that the present union between God and Man does not exist. In other words: sin exists.
If sin exists, then why does God permit it to happen? This is a question that has haunted people since the beginning of history. Why do bad things happen to good people?
About 150 years before the birth of Christ, we see what happened in Israel through reading II Maccabees 12:39-46:
Therefore, Judas and his men turned to prayer beseeching that the sin which had been committed might be wholly blotted out… He also took up a collection… and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably… Therefore he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.
In this passage one can clearly see several important facts. People can be delivered from their sins and sins can be blotted out. Sin can even be blotted out after this world.
GK Chesterton also said, “ The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”
Sins exist for what purpose?
But the new theologian gets around this dilemma. He does not bother with denying the existence of God or the existence of sin. He denies the existence of the cat. It can be pointed out that Chesterton’s illustration, while both gruesome and amusing, is also prophetic. If a doctor can tear apart a live baby before it is born, it means one of two things: either there is no God, or the union between God and Man has been broken. But the modern world avoids either of these conclusions and simply denies the existence of the baby. This is not right. When the baby is born is it still not a baby before it was born? You can not change sin by ignoring it! You should not allow something to happen just because it can!
People seem to be in a state of blank bewilderment, immobile stupor, catatonic paralysis because they are not putting together very logical arguments and accepting what they want when they want it. In this state of pleasure, pride, and self worth, people are eager to talk about so many things but nobody really wants to talk about sin. Sin is just not a popular subject. A good example of this can be seen in the Pew Report of 2015 that interviewed 15,000 Catholics on their concepts of sin. At that time the Church taught that living with someone you are romantic with and you are not married to that person was a sin. The PEW Study found that A third of Catholics (and 36% of the public as a whole) say it is a sin to live with a romantic partner without getting married. But more than half of Catholics (54%) say this living arrangement is not sinful. That meant over 50% of the Catholics surveyed did not believe in the teachings of the Church on sin.
People are not perfect. We are all flawed. Only God is perfect and since we are not God the logic would state that we are all sinners. With this aside, God has work to do here on earth. The only people He has to work with will be flawed sinners. God did not choose them because they were sinners, he chose because of what they could do to help build up the kingdom of God here on earth.
Today we are looking at two greater sinners who were also saints. They lived rugged and brutal lives by any stretch of the imagination. I am particularly proud of these two saints because of my close relationship to them. Sure, they were flawed, but without them, I do not know where we all would be at today- especially me.
St. Olga Of Kiev
A murderer and cold-hearted torturer turned-saint, St. Olga is venerated as the saint of widows and converts. She is a saint in both the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. While she was the first canonized Russian saint, she certainly was not the type of person anyone expected to become a saint. Her life is far from the life of a traditional saint. If we judged her by her sins, we would never have elevated her to this position.
Olga was once a princess, and the first documented female ruler of Russia. Her husband, Igor I, was the prince of Kiev, and was assassinated in 945 by those serving under him. He was tied to two birch trees that were bent over and on command, the trees that were tied back down were released and he was brutally murdered by being pulled completely apart- limb from limb. Because their son was still a minor at the time of Igor’s death, Olga became the regent of the grand principality of Kiev.
Seeking revenge against those who killed her husband, Olga had Igor’s murderers captured and scalded to death. But she would not stop there. She went on to execute hundreds of people who were members of the same tribe as her husband’s murderers. She is also said to have ordered the execution of nearly 5,000 men at a feast held in her honor. This plot and subplot sounds more like a 21st century Telenovela script than the background story of a saint.
After being touched by the majesty and awe of the liturgy, St. Olga converted to Christianity and was baptized between 945 and 957, despite her pagan son’s disapproval. After her son took control of the country, Olga requested the appointment of archbishops and priests, however the Holy Roman Emperor refused her request, accusing her of lying and trickery.
While her son, Svyatoslav, stuck with paganism, her grandson later adopted Olga’s Christian mantle and declared Kievan Rus’ a Christian empire. In 969, Olga died as she lived: not a saint. But nearly 600 years later, the church recognized her efforts to make Kievan Rus’ a Christian nation. In 1547, she was given the title “Isapostolos,” meaning “equal to the apostles.
St. Vladimir is the patron saint of Russian Catholics, and the grandson of St. Olga. When civil war broke out between his half-brothers, Vladimir was forced to flee to Scandinavia-back to the homeland of his relatives (Swedes); but he did not stay long. He put together an army and returned to Kiev to capture and murder his own half-brother to regain power. His mission was successful, and after defeating his brother, Vladimir became the ruler of Novgorod. He went on to consolidate the Kievan realm from modern-day Belarus, Russia and Ukraine to the Baltic Sea.
As a ruler, Vladimir was known for his barbarism and immorality, much like his grandmother. He had a temple built to worship a false god, and even ordered the sacrifice of a father and son for the temple’s consecration.
Originally a follower of Slavic paganism, Vladimir eventually became interested and impressed by Christianity because of its progress and growth. After his conversion in 988, he changed his life and became devoted to Christianity, even trading in his 7 wives for a single Byzantine bride (Anna-daughter of the Byzantine Emperor). He brought Greek missionaries to Russia, led people to Christianity, established charities and ultimately sought to unify his country under Christianity.
What have we learned? We all sin. The secret is that we should condemn the sinner, we should condemn the sin. If we do the former we will never have any one in Church. If we do the latter, we will all rejoice together in heaven together after we leave this earth. Amen