The beloved apostle Paul, in his letter to the Romans, gave them a commandment "But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgement seat of Christ. So then, each of us shall give account of himself to God. Therefore let us not judge one another anymore.." Romans 14:10, 12-13
Right after our Lord Jesus Christ chose his twelve apostles and gave them what we know as the 'Beatitudes', he commanded them to "judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven."Luke 6:37
Metropolitan Jonah defines judging as "objectifying our brother according to his sin''. And what does this mean? It means reducing our brother to his sin and identifying our brother by and only by his sin. It means considering our brother to be his sin and no longer an immortal soul that encompasses much more than just his sin. By judging we place ourselves over our brother usurping the place of God and forget the gospel command to love our neighbor.
Now I propose that this objectification of our brother happens not only when we judge our brother but also when we sin against our fellow human being in any other way. Murderers, for example must dehumanize their victims before the brutal act is done. Think about the Holocaust. The Jews were undressed, branded as cattle and carried in trains designed to carry animals, taken to ovens in concentration camps and then slaughtered by the Nazis.
A person betraying a spouse by adultery objectifies both the spouse and the other person with whom he or she commits adultery. The spouse is often reduced to an object unfit to satisfy the adulterer's 'needs'. And the consort is in reality nothing more than a body whose function is to satisfy those same 'needs'. This objectification process goes on whether we are aware of it or not, in just about any sin against our neighbor. Pride, egotism and selfishness is at the heart of it.
Clearly, some situations we face in life require our assessment. But we must remember that even then our brother is a soul that could be corrected, that he is much more than his sin and that if he repents while we continue holding his sin against him, we will be judged with the same severity with which we judged our brother, while he will be vindicated by God. Most of our sins are committed in secret and only God, our father confessor and we ourselves know when our repentance takes place. The fathers teach that when we judge our brother we are in grave danger of being delivered over by God, to the sin we are judging. Geronda Ephraim of Philotheou and now St Anthony's tells us in his 'Counsels from the Holy Mountain' p.207 "When we judge our brother, we condemn ourselves to a great sin. But when we cover our brother, God will also protect us from grave sins. When we expose our brother, we drive the grace of God away from us and He permits us to fall into the same sins so that we learn that we are all weak and that the grace of God supports us."
Discernment is not guile. It is neither, cunning, malice or cleverness. Discernment is not judging present experiences in the light of past ones. It is not being astute or wise in the ways of the world. All of these things I just mentioned are sin. Discernment is a gift of the Holy Spirit given only to those in a very high level of purification of their souls. Discernment is described in step 26Th of the Ladder of Divine Ascent by John Climacus. The saint tells us;
" Discernment in beginners is true knowledge of themselves; in intermediate souls it is a spiritual sense that faultlessly distinguishes what is truly good from what is of nature and opposed to it.; and in the perfect, it is knowledge which they have within by Divine illumination, and which can enlighten with its lamp what is dark in others. Or perhaps, generally speaking, discernment is, and is recognized as, the certain understanding of the Divine Will on all occasions, in every place and in all matters; and it is only found in those who are pure in heart, and in body and in mouth." p 161.
Therefore, if discernment is such a rare gift of the Holy Spirit, who can judge with righteous judgement? Our judgement will certainly be tainted by our own sin.
Let us learn humility and occupy ourselves with our own souls. And remember , in the words of St Silouan and elder Sophrony that 'our brother is our life';
"O Lord, give me tears
that my soul may weep
for the love of my brother day and night" St. Silouan (1)
(1) St Silouan The Athonite by Archimandrite Sophrony p.468