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“She made me do it.” This was the “excuse of my daughter when I asked her why she hit her sister! Wow, that’s a lot of power to give to someone else!

It seems we humans have a particular gift for shifting the blame to someone else when we make mistakes. We also seem to be particularly good at excusing or justifying our choices even when those choices turn out badly! When your first reaction to confrontation is to defend yourself, know you are following in a long line of self-centered humans through the centuries. Defensiveness is a symptom of a lack of repentance!

Look at our lesson today in Genesis 2:20-3:20. This is the main portion of the passage:

Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree of the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons.

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of thee in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent beguiled me, and I ate.” The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all cattle, and above all wild animals; upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” To the woman he said, “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Such a familiar story to us, and yet strangely new every time I read it. We see all the familiar players: Adam, Eve, the snake, and God. But the blame game stops with the snake. He never blames anybody else. Only Adam and Eve do the blame game.

And Adam is the first to cast the blame. I give a talk about this very passage in one of my presentations. And at each presentation, I ask the crowd “Who does Adam blame for his fall?” And it never fails. Most, if not all, the people in the room think Adam blames Eve, the woman. And they are shocked to learn they are wrong. Adam doesn’t blame Ever! He blames God! It was “that woman YOU gave me.” You see, we do the same thing. We are so gripped by our desperate need to defend ourselves that we ultimately blame God for our stumbles. “If God hadn’t made me this way…” “If God would only fix this problem for me…” or “If I had more money/a better job/etc…” We will never progress in the spiritual life until we stop blaming God and others for our problems!

And so the spiritual illness spreads and also with it the sickness of death. Failing to embrace my own responsibility is like a spiritual virus that infects my whole life with spiritual blindness and actual slavery to sin and death! And it turns me into a defensive excuse maker instead of a humble, honest, and repentant man who is quick to ask forgiveness and give forgiveness!

The saints we remember today are examples of men who didn’t try to shift blame to others but accepted the consequences of their Faith even unto death! The Martyrs, who were from Amasia, were fellow soldiers and kinsmen of Saint Theodore the Tyro (see Feb. 17). They were betrayed to the Governor Asclepiodotus as Christians, during the reign of Diocletian (284-305). After many torments, Eutropius and Cleonicus were crucified; Basiliscus was not slain together with them but was shut up in prison, in the hope that with time he might change his mind and sacrifice to the idols. He was beheaded on May 22. These heroes were brave in the face of persecution but didn’t hold a grudge against those who betrayed them nor did they try to shift blame. They faced the loss of their lives with unwavering faith and we remember their names even after all these centuries!

Today, most of the time we are tempted to blame others for our mistakes, but that never brings us true freedom. It’s only in embracing our own responsibility, confessing, and then asking for healing that we will ever truly pass through Great Lent with joy and the sure knowledge that a life of repentance is the only Normal Orthodox life there really is.

P.S. Since divine Eutropius and Basiliscus and the famed Cleonicus were bound in unity of faith, they cut asunder the foe’s arrays when they contended courageously for the Lord. Pray to God for us, holy ones. Amen

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