The sin of Ham

A sermon given at the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, Fourth Wednesday of Great Lent

Archimandrite Tikhon (Shevkunov)

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

May God save you for these evening prayers, for preparing yourselves to receive Holy Communion, for your love of God and the Holy Church and for the Divine Liturgy—the highest, the most beautiful, immortal, common act of mankind, the only act that can truly unite people with God and with each other. At the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts we heard the readings from the Old Testament. We have all read them at one time or another, we are all familiar with them, and we know that this is the book in which the God-seer Moses tells the story of God’s creation of the world—not from his own mind, not as he imagined it, but as God put it into his mind. He tells us not only about these great works of God, but also about mankind’s first sins—about pride, about disobedience and betrayal of God, about the first murder, about enmity, and about envy. Now, today, before us at the Vespers, unfolds the story of yet one more sin, for which the Lord curses a man. This is the sin of Ham.

We heard how Ham treated his father. This would seem to be righteous anger to some degree, or a righteous judgment—if judgment can be at all righteous. Judgment can only be righteous if it is God’s judgment—God Who sees the heart of man, Who knows all the secrets of the human soul, even the slightest act. From this we must recognize that from God come fairness, goodness, and just judgment.

But here we have Ham. His father Noah drank to such a degree of drunkenness that he could not even arise. We know how that can be, how it is when someone close to us is completely out of control. He might even become extremely repugnant, and it’s unpleasant to even come near him. And we know what shocking things he says and does when he is in such a state. So Ham went and called his brothers Shem and Japheth and pointed at their father saying, “Come and take a look at what our father has come to.” His two brothers, as we read in the Bible, did not give in to that judgment—however “righteous” it may have been. And it has to be admitted that there definitely was some impropriety in their father’s behavior. But they closed their eyes and looked the other way, covering their father’s nakedness. Noah was so drunk he lay sprawled on the ground entirely unclothed.

God then made a certain determination concerning Ham: to be cursed. Cursed! It would seem that this condemnation was unfair. What was unfair about it? Did Noah do well to get drunk? Of course not—there is nothing good about what Noah had done. However, the Lord God does not look at a person’s actions, but at his heart. Despite the indignation in the heart of Noah’s son, if it were filled with sorrow over his father, if he had been contrite about himself also—because he himself, of course, is not without sin—if he, in grief over that sad incident had not gone and spread the word around, had not called his brothers and other people to take a look, then even that inner indignation he felt over another man’s impropriety would not have been a sin so severe as to merit a curse. But the sin of Ham was cursed by God’s word, as was Ham himself.

And this curse of Ham takes place before our very eyes, because even the very name “Ham” has become a byword among all peoples, throughout all times. We know what that means—to be called “Ham”. There is a curse in this; it meant that Ham and all his descendants would bear the mark of that curse from God, throughout all time. Why? Because God so judged.

The thought might arise in us also: Why? The son is not responsible for the father! Why were all of Ham’s descendants cursed for the sin of their father? But at this we fall into the same sin. We again are indignant, rebellious and mocking against our heavenly father. We can ask for God to give us understanding, saying: Why do we not comprehend You? Perhaps the Lord will answer this question of our heart and mind. He will most probably reveal that answer to us. But this sin is repeated throughout the generations of men, and in every person. The Holy Church reminds us that this is a sin, so that if we want to come closer to God, if we want to attain purity of soul, if we want true repentance and correction of life, if we want salvation, to be able to repent while still on this earth, then we have to remember: Has there ever been anything like this with regard to our own parents? With regard to our superiors, our instructors or benefactors? And even on a broader scale, with regard to ordinary people, our peers, and those younger than us?

Ham’s sin was that he did not grieve over the sin of his father, but instead became conceited, laughed derisively at the sin, was proud, looked down on his father, and had a contemptuous attitude. Every time this feeling arises in our hearts, no matter who is the object of it or under what pretexts—even if it is a reproach against all unrighteousness, even if we consider that we are fulfilling some “just” mission—if we have contempt for our neighbor and not for his sin, if we condemn him and not his sin, if we look down upon him, then no matter what he has done, without exception, if it gives cause for pride in our hearts, then that pride is demonic, and falls under that curse.

This is what our Holy Church teaches. I repeat it during these days of Great Lent, when we are offered a very special opportunity for repentance, for remembering our sins of long ago and not so long ago, for self-analysis, discernment about our own selves, and of course, correction of our lives. The holy fathers say: Remember your sins, repent of them, and ask God sincerely for forgiveness. If you come to hate that sin with all your heart, it will be a sign that you have been forgiven it. May God save you.

Archimandrite Tikhon (Shevkunov)
Translation for

16 апреля 2013 г.

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