Indeed, I am.
When I first learned that this admission of the apostle Paul was also a regular prayer of Orthodox believers, I was puzzled – for we do not say this about ourselves in the western Church.
Perhaps we should.
However, my initial reaction was, “How can everyone in the congregation say this and truly mean it?”
First of all, it is not possible that each of them can be the worst. Only one of a group can be the worst (or the best) with anything, if the grammar of the superlative is kept true.
But furthermore, it would seem unlikely, looking upon the grievous sins committed in the world, that the very worst of sinners would be in attendance at a particular church. If I were Orthodox, I thought at the time of this first encounter, I could not say this prayer. I am a sinner without a doubt, but I could not honestly claim to be the worst of sinners.
However, now, though I remain a Catholic, I can say it quite truly. I am the worst of sinners.
It is hard to explain how I know this and I admit quite honestly that much of the time I do not feel it is true. Much of the time I think that I am not so bad or even better than most. But that is what the enemy wants me to believe. When I am thinking this way, he has the upper hand.
Some time ago, I cannot remember when, God pulled aside a curtain for me – just for a moment. I recall that I was in church during the celebration of the Eucharist. Just for a moment, I was given a glimpse of what was behind the curtain of my soul – behind my delusion of “good person”.
In a word, I was horrified.
Such a glimpse can never be adequately described in words, but it was as though I saw the tremendous goodness of God in all that He had given and done for me – and simultaneously, how I had twisted it all for self-gratification and self-glorification. I could see in that moment how even my seeming “good” deeds were mockeries of His goodness.
Although it was a relief when the curtain was let back down, I have sometimes wished to have another glimpse. It is too easy for me to forget how deep is the disease that afflicts my soul and how good is the God who has come to save me.
While there are many other people who have done bad deeds, their sins are of no consequence to me in light of this vision. I cannot see what they have been given or know what their choices were.
There is only one sinner in my world and it is me.
I am the worst of sinners. Please forgive me, my brothers and sisters.
May God have mercy on me.