Wednesday after Pentecost Romans 1:18-27 May 28/June 10 2009

Two sins that lead to all others.

It’s always about you.


Sexual immorality.

The delusion of the age.

We must have courage.

Immediately after Pentecost, we begin reading The Epistle of Paul to the Romans. This is arguably the most difficult, theological and “head spinning[1]” Epistle in the New Testament.


As with all Scripture, however, there are always simple messages that we can glean , as long as we read with purpose, expecting to be instructed in righteousness[2] by some detail we read


Much of the things St Paul says in today’s reading are very simple. It would be good to talk about them now, while we still can.[3]


It would be a great mistake to regard Paul’s words as only referring to idolaters and sexually immoral people, whom Paul refers to here:


23 And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.” (idolatry)


“For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: 27 And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet.” (homosexuality, or in our political speak of the day, both “Gay” and “Lesbian” relations)


The most important part of the entire reading is the first verse, and it’s follow-up, which describe two kinds of sins:


“18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;”


The scriptures must be read in a personal way. This does not mean that they will tell us what car to buy,  or whether or not to do missionary work in another country, but they will speak to our personal hearts, if we listen. Although Paul goes on to describe some of the more extreme examples of holding “the truth in unrighteousness”, we err greatly if we do not consider this admonition to also refer to us.


When we read these words, we must wonder in which way they refer to us. To ponder this, we first must understand what holding “the truth in unrighteousness” is.


Let’s define it as: saying we believe something, but not doing what we say. This describes all sin. Now, St Paul’s words are very personal, and should make us tremble!  The Holy Theologian tells us:


And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.  (4)  He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. (1John 2:3-4)




If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? (1John 4:20)


Do we “hold” the truth, and yet remain unrighteous, with our passions and sins and selfishness and laziness and all the rest? If so, then St Paul’s admonition applies to us.


Let us not despair, because if we are true Christians, with the “honest and good heart[4]” that our Savior described, then although we are guilty of sins, we will not  be guilty of the greater sins which St Paul described (which lead to all terrible, immoral sins):


21 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools…”


I have told many people many times that sin, of itself, will not kill us. If it were absolutely deadly, no one would live. Only unrepentance will lead to death. God will forgive all sin, except that unforgivable sin[5] – to not repent. If we do sinful things, AND justify them, we have become vain in our imaginations and have darkened hearts – and God will not abide where there is darkness.


Death from sin is a process, with progression, just as gaining eternal life is a process with progression. All sins lead to death, because, unchecked, sin leads to more sin, and eventually, the corruption of the mind so that we are unable to stop sinning. All righteousness leads to more righteousness, and eventually, we are free from sin. Which way are we progressing, towards Jerusalem, or towards Jericho[6]? The way we live our life, the priorities we have, the beliefs we espouse, our own personal honest and integrity – these will determine which road we walk.


St Paul’s admonition censures two great sins which lead to all the rest of the woes and illnesses of the heart:


1. Holding the truth in unrighteousness, that is, being sinners.




2. The greater sin, which is one of the heart – to not glorify God, and as a consequence of not carefully attempting to follow the commandments, making excuses for our sins, and becoming vain in our imaginings and darkened in our hearts.


As for the first sin, there is repentance, and the grace of God which will help us. As for the second, there can come a time when we are incapable of repentance, because our lack of care regarding personal purity and the following of the commandments will have lead us to have a “hardened heart” like Pharaoh. From this sin there is not repentance.


If we fear the first, and struggle against it, we will not commit the second.


Now, we must say something about the immoral sins that St Paul mentions.


Absolutely, these denunciations of Paul refer to what they appear to be referring to: worship of idols, and immoral same sex sexual acts. Of course, our society tries all day long to find some way to change the meaning of these words, but they are very clear. God considers sexual activity between those of the same sex to be impure, “unseemly” and “unnatural”.


We must pause here to make two important points.


This passage does not mention adultery, but it is also a grave sin, mentioned at many other places in the scriptures. Also, there are different kinds of sins and weaknesses. We understand that even to “look at a woman to lust after her” is adultery, so the church has always understood, as her High Priest has taught us, that sin can occur, even if it is only in the mind.


Any impure thoughts are debilitating to the soul, but when we fight them with courage and not with an attitude of “making excuse with excuses in sins”, we will eventually, with God’s help, be at peace. Sexual lust of all kinds can be a very strong and persistent temptation, and to even have this temptation is a sign to us that we are not yet righteous. We truly fall when we give in to the temptation and act upon it, and make it a thousand times more deadly to our soul when we make excuses for it. Can a person afflicted with sexual impurity (of any kind) be saved? YES, OF COURSE, but only if he struggles against it.


Our politically correct age is making it a sin to say there is sin. If we understand sin for what it is – something which debilitates the soul and makes it sick, then we can fight this view. To call homosexuality a sin (and to offer solutions for it) is an act of Christian love. My brethren, do not fall prey to the pernicuous propaganda of our age. All sin hurts, and leads to death. It must be fought, and we must equip others weaker than ourselves to fight it, not matter what our government or major papers or television programs try to tell us.


To have a moral opinion of life is not easy, and it takes courage. Many so called Christians are afraid to live this way. May God help us. If we attempt to live moral lives with great effort, we will not be prone to the great delusion that our society is trying to confuse us with. This is only solution for our modern predicament. If we are strict with ourselves, and try to live morally, we will not be confused when the world tries to sell us a bowl of pottage, whether by propaganda, coercion, threats or punishments.




Romans 1:18-27 18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; 19 Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. 20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: 21 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, 23 And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. 24 Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: 25 Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. 26 For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: 27 And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.



Priest Seraphim Holland 2009.     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas


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[1] “Head spinning” – Sometimes when I try to understand the depth of Paul’s theology, as I think on the multiple layers of though contained in even one (LONG) sentence, my head spins!

[2] All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: (2Timothy 3:16  )

[3] The impending “Hate Speech” legislation and the overall tone of our society which considers the only sin to be proclaiming that there IS sin, will make any discussion of morality, and especially sexual morality, very dangerous. It will, unless God intervenes, soon be a crime to publicly espouse the church’s view about sexual morality, especially regarding homosexuality. People will go to jail for standing up for the truth, after being slandered as purveyors of “hate speech” and inciters of violence”. Are you ready for this? The only way to be ready is to live a moral life NOW, because when the time comes to stand (and loose your job or life or liberty in the process), you (and I) will not be able to do so, unless we are strengthened by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, who only abides in a place that is pure.

[4] “But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.” (Luke 8:15  )


[5] The church understands blasphemy against the Holy Spirit to be lifelong unrepentance ”Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. (Mat 12:31)


Verily I say unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme:  (29)  But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation: (Mar 3:28-29)


[6] See the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37). Jerusalem is a symbol of righteousness, and Jericho of sin.


  1. >Sexual lust of all kinds can be a very strong and persistent temptation, and to even have this temptation is a sign to us that we are not yet righteous

    Father, Bless,
    I have a couple of questions about this:

    1)I know you are not saying that to have any temptation is a sign of unrighteousness, since our Lord was tempted—so what would make a temptation to sexual lust more of a sign of unrighteousness than other type of temptation? Or are you saying that to be *persistently* tempted by these types of sins is the sign of a lack of righteousness?

    2)I have heard it said “You cannot help having birds fly over your head but you can keep them from building nests in your hair” So is a thought always a sin or is it the dwelling on a thought that makes a temptation become a sin?

    Thank You,

  2. BTW, my questions are mostly ‘academic’ since no matter what the answers are I know I still lack righteousness. But I have long been puzzled with the difference between temptation and sin, knowing that our Lord was tempted but without sin…and wondered if some types of temptations might not, in fact, increase as a person approached righteousness. Can the number and type of our temptations (not sin) be a gauge of righteousness?

  3. Father, bless!
    I felt that the lack of sexual temptation is a sign of impassivity, and righteousness is when a person fights to resist temptations (this one as well), keeps off dirty thoughts, and of course does not fall into the sin. Of course, righteousness is a much wider notion, and I observe only this narrow aspect.
    Deborah questions are actual in this respect. In my head her question is tansformed into the following one: can righteousness be equaed with impassivity? As I feel, righteousness can be a part of impassivity in very rare righteous people, but a righteous person can be at a stage when he is not yet achieved impassivity. As impassivity is the highest stage of virtue, which can be achieved with very few ones. Can you please identify the difference or nuances if any?
    These thoughts are complicated as they are not thoughts actually, to fight with which we can with efforts of our heart & mind, the situation is aggravated because this is an instinct, and people who try to fight with it do it during practically all their lives. But some people have a different nature, and this instinct is only slightly developed, and they face another temptation – they can feel themselves righteous when they lose it totally in the course of some time, though in reality it’s not because they are righteous & fought against it, but due to their physical nature.
    Thank you so much. I am a bit perplexed….

  4. The following quote may help, Deborah.

    First there is provocation; then a coupling with the provocation; then assent to it; then captivity to it; then passion,grown habitual and continuous. This is how the holy fathers describe the stages through which the devil gets the better of us.”

    St. Philotheos of Sinai, Forty Texts on Watchfulness #34

  5. Thank you, Nicholas. An excellent quote …it reminds me of what James said about lust giving birth to sin which, in turn gives birth to death.

    But what I would next ask about the quote is at which point are we talking temptation and which point sin? My guess is that the provocation is temptation and our responses of coupling and assent are the sin. “Captivity and passion grown habitual and continuous” are the results of sin and the road to death.

  6. Another of the fathers says that only the first stage is guiltless – the stage at which thoughts present themselves. Once you allow yourself to engage, or carry on a conversation with, the idea, then this is already sinful to some extent — although it is not as bad as assenting to it in thought or committing it in deed.

    This is not something that we can really understand just by being told about it or applying rational categories. The fathers speak from the real experience of attention to themselves, and they can only be really understood by being similarly attentive, so the rest of us to some extent simply have to trust them, and try not to sin…

  7. I have been trying to reconcile what Father Seraphim said, “Sexual lust of all kinds can be a very strong and persistent temptation, and to even have this temptation is a sign to us that we are not yet righteous” and the fact that temptations, themselves are not sins and not necessarily an indication of a lack of righteousness.

    I think I may now understand what Father Seraphim was saying (and I hope he corrects me if I have missed something). Returning to my analogy of birds flying overhead as temptations: If the birds are not allowed to land in our tree they do not become sins, but simply something to be guarded against. If however it is not a single bird that occasionally flies over the tree, but a whole flock that is continuously gathering and circling overhead, then that is an indication that there is something in the tree, itself, that is attracting them. Whatever it is, whether it be rot within the branches or some unholy fruit that the branch is bearing, the branches that are attracting the birds must be pruned.

    So it is not that the temptations themselves are sin and unrighteousness but the fact that continuous and constant distraction and harassment by particular temptations indicates a sinful weakness and lack of righteousness in ourselves that must be acknowledged and eliminated.

  8. Thinking of this has reminded me of this verse that has always puzzled me:

    “For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together.” Matthew 24:28

  9. Father, bless!
    this verse, quoted by Deborah, has been a puzzle to me too, all the time. and I don’t know why, I never asked anyone competent the exact meaning of it…During different times of my life I tried to explain it to myself (though I know I should have looked after the answer in the interpretations by the Holy Fathers, not to try to interprete by myself). Though I understand it in the current period of my life as follows: i regard the “carcass” as a dead soul, i.e. the soul of the person who committed a mortal sin & did not repent, and “eagles” as demons who gather tohether to devour it, as they obtain power over this soul, which belonged to them even in this temporary world due to the unrepented sin, and belongs to them after the person died and his soul has gone from his body to the realm which it prepared for itself here.
    I am far from being sure, of course, whether this has something sensible!
    And what Deborah says leads me to the thought it can be also explained: the soul, which is in the power of dirty & sinful thoughts, becomes dead to anything divine, it is slowly but gradually polluted by the poison of thoughts & passions, and finally becomes helpless under the onslaught of demons, and they tear the poo soul apart, like eagles do with the dead body.
    Unfortunately I don’t know where to look up for the correct interpretation by the Holy Fathers, if you can give me a reference, I’d be happy. As well as for any your comment & advice; or Nicholas’s, or anyone’s.

  10. Natasha, this is just my ‘two cents’ as we say (meaning ‘my little opinion, for what it’s worth’) but after posting about temptations being attracted to a spiritually weak person (or a person who is weak in a particular area of his spiritual life), this verse came to mind and I finally had a glimmer of understanding about it, and I thought of how it might apply in this discussion:

    Our dead, rotting flesh clings to us (“Who will save me from this body of death?!” cries St. Paul) It must either be amputated or healed and restored to life, because the stench of rotting flesh attracts scavenging and predatory birds. In other words, our spiritual weaknesses attract temptation, demons, and other destructive things into our lives.

    What is dead is fit only to be picked apart by the eagles or cast into the fire and burned.

  11. “For wheresoever the corpse is, there will the eagles be gathered together” (Matt 24:28). The context of this is Christ’s admonition to his disciples that they should not believe people who say “Lo, here is Christ,” since his coming will be openly manifest to all, like lightening. Blessed Theophylact says, “and as the eagles, that is, the vultures, swiftly converge on a corpse, so too all the saints, who soar in the heights, will come where Christ will be and they will be snatched up into the clouds as the eagles. Certainly the corpse is Christ Who died for us and lay as a corpse.”

  12. I am writing something about the eagles verse, but Nicholas has stolen much of my thunder. I think if you have the money, spending it on the four commentaties by blessed Theofylact would be a good thing. I went to these commentaries also to explain this verse.

    As for being tempted and being impure, I think we are always tempted, no matter how pure we are. The pure deflect temptations without effort. This even happend with us regular folk. When you go to a store, you CAN steal, but most of us so not even consider it, or feel any desire to do so. We were presented with a temptation, but did not “feel” it.

    With sexual temptation, many of us feel different degrees of desire and must repeall the temptation with differing degrees of effort. I remember a story about this.

    Two monks were walking back to their cells after selling basckets. A prostitute was walking towards them. The younger monk hid his face in his cowl, so as not to see her, and be tempted. The older monk, his spiritual father, greeted the woman as he passed by. The younger one inwardly judged his father, thinking that he had lusted. The older one, knowing this, asked his son what he had just seen. The younger one stammered an answer, and the old man replied that as for himself, he dod not know if the person who had just passed was a man or a woman!

    Both monks stayed free from sin, but the older one was free from the passion which leads to sin.

  13. I would have never guessed the interpretation of the eagles scripture on my own (which is, of course, why I need help).

    It makes sense: Just as vultures are attracted to the corruption and smell of death in an ordinary dead body, so are the righteous drawn to the incorrupt body of our Lord.

  14. Thank you very much, Father, Nicholas and Natasha….very enlightening exchange.

  15. ??????? ?????? ? ??????? ????? ???????????? ? ???? ???????. ???? ?? ?????????? ????, ??????? ??-?? ?????? ????? ?????? ?????????.
    Father, what a descriptive story! How far I am from…But I realise God gives people what can serve the purpose of their salvation, and if I got impassivity i’d have died out of pride…

    I have another story close to what you have told us here:
    Once there was a young woman standing on the bank of the river, and tow monks had to do the same. But she could not avoid without help.
    Their vow strictly prohibited them to approach or touch women, and the young monk demonstratively turned away from her. The old monk meanwhile approached the woman, lifted her & carried her through the river & left her there. The two monks proceeded the whole remaining way in silence, but very close to their monastery which they almost reached by that time, the young monk lost control of himself: “How could you touch a woman?! You have given a vow!” To which the old monk answered quitely: “It’s strange, I carried her through the river & left her there, but you are still carrying her…”

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