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Sickness and Sin —
the Basis of Global Problems
by Metropolitan NIKITAS C. Lulias
Orthodox Metropolitanate of Hong Kong and Southeast Asia

There is no need to mention that our world is facing serious challenges, as each day we hear of more problems when we listen to the news and follow current events. It seems that the government and political leaders have not been able to find solutions to many of these issues and, in fact, they often contribute to the increasing number of problems, either directly or indirectly. There is no need to speak of specifics, as we can certainly find numerous examples. These “sicknesses” demand a type of therapy and healing, which are not found within the scientific, political and other technological realms. It is only within the religious traditions that one can find the proper means of diagnosing and providing the proper tools for the necessary solutions. Too often, we look at the world at large and forget about the human being — we cannot see the forest for the trees. Perhaps, it is necessary that we direct our attention to the person, the human being, as we seek answers to our global challenges, and then progressively look to society and the greater picture.

The Eastern Orthodox tradition teaches us that we are living in a world, which is not in its natural state of creation. We are living in the world where the results of sin are evident on the individual person and as result of this, the world at large. The person, who is a microcosm of our very world, reflects the situations that abound here. The problems, which plague him/her and the world, are the results of our living in this state of fallen nature. Our separation from God has allowed us to wander carelessly and abuse not only the world but even our very self. In this state of blind and careless wandering, we have sought even to usurp roles and responsibilities that are not ours. We have forgotten our very purpose and role in the cosmos. We often think of ourselves not as a part of creation, but assume the authority, power and rights of the Creator. The recent events surrounding “test-tube life” are prime examples of these patterns.

It seems that we have taken the talents and resources that have been bestowed on us by God and used them for purposes other than producing a better life and world. His All Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, whom I have the honor of representing, made the following statement at a conference some five years ago: “Scientific achievements, which relieve human suffering, help improve physical health, extend the length of life, and in general, enhance human life, are truly gifts from God. They are not, however, ends in and of themselves, even more so, they are not excuses for abuses which reduce the perspective for the necessity of human salvation. The mission of the Church is not to undermine scientific achievements but to save man and to protect ethical values”.

While science and all its resources have certainly contributed to our world and human life, we also know that the results of testing and experiments, nuclear waste, and our attempts to alter the natural patterns of life have seriously marked our world.

It is the Church and other religious bodies, which combat not only the abuses of science and experimentation but also everything else, which contributes to the destruction of the human person and the world, as well. As individuals, agencies and the various societies of the global community continue to contribute to the problems, religious leaders must find new methods and ways to challenge the masses and those in authority from allowing things to go too far.

The problems we face are not the issues and challenges of generations past, although they may have the same root — those mentioned above. Our vainglory and desires to become “gods” and “eternal” have misdirected our steps on the wrong paths.

In Southeast Asia, we know that the poorest communities of the world exist. Along with poverty, we face the serious increase of issues related to sexually transmitted diseases, especially HIV and AIDS. These problems are, in turn, directly related to the scandals of human slave trade, exploitation, forced prostitution and the like. And, while governments and agencies hold meetings, conferences and seminars, the results are seemingly few. The wonderful conclusions are often founded printed in texts, which end up on library shelves. Thoughts, statements and agreements rarely find themselves realized, especially in the communities of the marginalized. While these are, indeed, the issues and problems that plague society, they are of more concern to the person, the woman, the child, and the man. It is primarily for these reasons that the religious leaders are called to take up the challenge and offer some insights and guidance as to what must be done. It is necessary, though, for us to start at the lowest and simplest level — the human being.

I return to the idea of the person, as the basic issue. When a person leads the path of holiness, as is the calling in our religious tradition, there is a type of balance, if I might use that term. He/she is in balance with himself, the world and the divine. He lives within the perimeters of what is proper and good and does not seek to go beyond these or to cross the fine lines that disrupt the sacred balance, which exists. His emotional and spiritual states are in harmony. But, when this balance changes, the results can be traumatic and even psychosomatic and the state of a person, even physically, suffers the consequences, as is often so in the person who has no religious values and identity. Anger, cruelty, internal pains, etcetera are all the results of this loss of balance and distance from the path of holiness. His vision becomes a “tunnel vision” and he looks only to his own wants and needs, trying to find cures and solutions to his problems. The individual has lost the rhythm and sense of balance and has also lost the vision of what is necessary. He is changed and the sins of pride, greed, avarice, hunger for power and all the like, sink their venomous teeth into the heart and mind of a person. In time, these passions may overtake the person and cause a serious disorientation in life.

This disruption and break in the balance of life moves to another level — that of society, as a person does not remain isolated and alone. His contact with others allows his sickness to touch upon them and to even spread into their hearts and minds. The most dangerous aspect of this problem is when the sicknesses and sins pour forth from a charismatic leader and he leads the masses and pollutes them with the same ideologies. We see this happen even in the case of fanatic religious leaders. Instead of directing people and leading them with inspiration and love, they press a mad and crazy mob forward. Religious leaders are to promote cooperation and other values, as emphasized in the words of His All Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew last August in Greece, when he said: “It is our common understanding that the divine and human converge in all religions upholding the sanctity of human life, and therefore, each in its own special way emphasizes the values of liberty, justice, brotherhood, solidarity, and love, for peaceful coexistence among all human beings and all peoples, particularly in our modern multicultural global community.” Sadly, these values and ideas have not been promoted, taught and shared by many. The tragic result of this failing is evident in the sickness and sins, which abound everywhere. We, as leaders and persons related to religious life, fall short of these goals and it is our challenge to change our course and the course of global society. One must address the issues of the inner cosmos and then he will be able to deal with the challenges of the outer cosmos. The person, who seeks, struggles and hopes to lead a life of holiness, will share this with all people.

As humans, we share with the world that which we possess. If we have love, peace, truth and other such values in our hearts and souls, we give them to the world. But, when we possess a host of problems, illnesses, sins, such as confusion, lust for various things; we infect those who come into contact with us. You see, there is a direct relationship with the person and the self. It is therefore necessary that we begin with the person in looking to solve our global problems.

A person who is solid and maintains a balance in his life does so by also relating to God, for he understands that the source of truth, righteousness, love and every good and perfect gift comes from above. A person, then, who maintains and keeps his life in balance with God, is one who walks the difficult and narrow path. He may be seen not in opposition to the world, but rather in opposition to the direction and path the world has chosen, as his path is that of holiness — our true and only calling. He has come to understand the sanctity of life, the beauty of creation, the image of the Creator in his fellow human beings, and the like. Law is not written on the tablets of stone and printed in books, as theories and principles; rather, law and truth have been inscribed on the heart and they are lived in a real way.

Our world is not in need of good people. Our world is in need of holy people, who can guide and lead society on the proper path. The holy person, or rather the person who strives to lead this sort of life, also attempts to keep things in balance on all levels. He is no longer himself, but rather the transfigured and changed person, who allows Christ to live in him. He sees Christ in all things, just as he gives Christ to all people. This he lives, shares and offers to all who come in to contact with him, either directly or indirectly. The world of fallen nature is not part of him, as the real and natural world live in him. It is these people who offer the solutions to the problems, illnesses and sins that plague our world. Now, we must find them, imitate them and follow them.