Compassion and the Path to Our Forgiveness - A Homily on Forgiveness Sunday (2020)

March 01, 2020

Compassion and the Path to Our Forgiveness - A Homily on Forgiveness Sunday (2020)

February 17 / March 1

IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, AND OF THE SON, AND OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. AMEN.

Introduction

There is a letter, written by Olga Romanov while she and the Russian royal family were imprisoned in Tobolsk, which has come to be seen as the last will and testament of her father, the Royal Martyr, Tsar Nicholas II. In it, she wrote:

Father asks to have it passed on to all who have remained loyal to him and to those on whom they might have influence, that they not avenge him; he has forgiven and prays for everyone; and not to avenge themselves, but to remember that the evil which is now in the world will become yet more powerful and that it is not evil that conquers evil, but only love.[1]

Shortly afterward, they were moved from Tobolsk to the Ipatiev House in Yekaterinburg where Tsar Nicholas II, his wife, their five children, and faithful servants and friends were shot, stabbed with bayonets, and/or had their heads crushed in with the butts of rifles by revolutionaries.

We are not in a similar circumstance, and yet Christ’s command to forgive others (cf. Matt. 18.35) is given to all despite time,  status, and circumstance. As Christ says, “Without me, you can do nothing,” to which the Apostle Paul affirms, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” so also is it possible for us to forgive, no matter what the circumstance. There is no one who comes to Christ in repentance, who will not receive forgiveness, therefore how can it be amongst us that if we have been forgiven that we cannot find the ability to forgive others?

Narration

Today is called “Forgiveness Sunday,” because, as Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) notes, “there can be no true fast, no genuine repentance, no reconciliation with God unless we are at the same time reconciled with one another.”[2]

The Scripture readings assigned for today prepare us for the coming fast and instruct us as to the place of forgiveness in the life of a Christian and tells us that if we forgive, we will be forgiven.

It is high time to awake out of sleep; our salvation is near; the night is far spent, and the day is at hand. (cf. Romans 13.11-12) What am I to do? Where am I to start? How am I to begin? Forgive. Leave your gift before the altar (cf. Matt. 5.23-24) and go make amends with your brother, your sister, your mother, your father, your friend, with the whole world.

On Forgiveness

We will not be forgiven if we do not forgive

In today’s Gospel reading, Christ makes two statements First: “if you forgive men their trespass, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” And second, “But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” In these sentences, we can see the importance of forgiveness and how it positions our relationship with our neighbors with our relationship to God, all three being connected. Will God forgive me my sins? Yes, if I also forgive my neighbor. If I do not forgive my neighbor, then God will not forgive me.

We must forgive, often, and from our heart

Although this may sound like a difficult command, it becomes even more challenging when Christ answers the question as to how often we are to forgive by saying, “seventy times seven,” times, that is, as often as others sin and offend us (Matt. 18.21). Moreover, it is not enough to only say, “I forgive you,” for Christ adds that we must forgive from our heart, with all sincerity and truth (cf. Matt. 18.35) – forgive, and wash away all resentment, all bitterness, all anger.

  1. i) Our Forgiveness

A Christian should be one who is able to forgive more easily and readily because they know the forgiveness of Christ. However, for us who forget, the Church reminds us.

Today is Forgiveness Sunday, and it is also the Sunday in which we recall when Adam and Eve were cast out of Paradise. Throughout the Great Fast of Lent, the image of the return to Paradise, the return to the Garden of Eden, from which all of humanity was cast out together but has been repeated individually in each of our lives, is presented before us through the services of the Church.

During Matins last night, we heard about Paradise, that it was and is a place of beauty, of delight, and unending joy. It is a place that is perfect, blessed, all-holy, and whose meadows and trees and flowers were all planted by God and for Adam’s sake. Herein, Adam and his wife Eve were clothed in a divinely woven robe of light. Here they lived in daily communion with God.[3] However, when that holy couple transgressed the commandment of God, they, and we, in them, were stripped naked and cast out from that delight and unending joy.[4]

Let us note, though, how this transgression is described, for it was through the deceit of the serpent that Eve fell, and Adam was led astray. The craftiness, deceit, and envy of the serpent were not recognized, and although Adam knew the commandment of the Lord, he “stumbled,” it says, not realizing what the consequences would be, not realizing the delight that he would lose. However, although Adam was cast out of Paradise, communion with God was not broken beyond repair, because God carved out a path by which they and we are able to come back to Him. This path begins by asking God’s forgiveness:

“Our sins are more in number than the sand of the sea; but Deliverer of all, forgive each one of us, that we may receive an incorruptible crown.”[5]

“I am fallen, in Thy compassion have mercy on me.”[6]

“In Thy loving compassion despise me not, O God my Saviour, but call me back.”[7]

“O Lord who lovest mankind, who hast fashioned me from the earth and art clothed with compassion, call me back from the bondage of the enemy and save me.”[8]

  1. ii) Conquer evil with love

Although there were consequences to the choices made by Adam and Eve, it did not change God’s love for them, although in their immaturity, they heeded the voice of the serpent and were deceived. Instead, a new path was laid out for them, the end of which leads to their spiritual maturity and re-union with God. God did not hate Adam and Eve although they grieved him, but because He is compassionate, He accepts their repentance and grants them forgiveness; because He is compassionate, He accepts our repentance and grants us forgiveness. Because Christ forgives us, we are called to forgive others – forgive, seventy times seven and from a compassionate heart. Be ye kind one to another, says the Apostle Paul, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you; and in another place, forbearing one another, and forgiving one another even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. (cf. Eph. 4.32 and Col. 3.13). “Let us embrace one another and let us say, ‘O, brethren,’ even to those that hate us. Let us forgive all things…”

iii) Forgiveness from the heart

Yes, let us forgive all things, from the heart, with all sincerity and truth. St. Isaac the Syrian says, “A sign of compassion is forgiveness of every debt; a sign of an evil mind is offensive speech to one who has fallen.”[9] And to those who are compassionate and forgive others, the Lord not only forgives you of your sins but, seeing your inward disposition, will bestow His grace upon you, as St. Maximos writes.[10] Do you want to gain grace, or maintain the grace you have? Then nurture a compassionate heart and forgive your brother and God’s grace will be with you. One cannot overcome the passions and evil within oneself nor that in others through bitterness, strife, and animosity but only through forgiveness from a compassionate heart. 

  1. iv) Being wronged benefits us and allows us the opportunity to forgive

There are many situations that we can get into wherein we end up hurt, offended, resentful, and from this, a wound festers inside of us, and a grudge, forms and the event is etched in our memory and becomes associated with the person who hurt us and is recalled when we hear that person’s name or remember the event. Of course, these are not easy situations to shake, to let go of or to be at peace with, but as Christ says, and the Apostle repeats, with Christ, all things are possible. Moreover, instead of only thinking of the hurt, the pain, and the wound, we should direct our attention elsewhere, not only on ourselves but towards God.

St. Peter Damascene writes that when the thought arises which asks, “Why would so and so try to offend me,” then we should know oppose that thought by saying that at some time we have offended God, or our neighbor, or our brother, or our father, even if we are not aware of it. Even if we cannot recall an instance wherein we may have caused this, yet at some time in our life, and often without us even knowing it, we are the ones who have offended another. Therefore, we should accept this offense as deserved, acknowledging that we are to blame and dispelling the thoughts that attack us; we should forgive the other person, and blame ourselves. He writes that what we should think is that we are being given the opportunity to receive forgiveness from God. “Indeed, nothing leads more swiftly,” he writes, “to the forgiveness of our sin than this virtue [of forgiving others].”[11]

St. John Chrysostom emphasizes this exact point when he writes,

Say not then that he insulted thee, and slandered thee, and did unto thee ills beyond number; for the more thou tellest, so much the more dost thou declare him a benefactor. For he hath given thee an opportunity to wash away thy sins; so that the greater the injuries he hath done thee, so much greater is he become to thee a cause of a greater remission of sins.

For if we be willing, no one shall be able to injure us, but even our enemies shall advantage us in the greatest degree.[12]

Affirming the previous Fathers, St. Gregory Palamas, emphasizing the need for our compassion through forgiveness which affects our neighbor, ourselves, and the malice of the devil, when he says:

The spiritual enemy of all Christian people, who is far more savage than any barbarian, invisibly attacks us. He cuts off the soul on all sides from everything it needs for salvation, surrounds it with a dearth of virtue, crushes it with despair because of its lack of good deeds, and so conquers and destroys it. Then, obviously, by the providence of the Saviour of sinners, someone comes along who has wronged us and needs our compassion, and when he has received it from us, he makes all the devil’s malice against us of no effect, reconciles us with God, offers us abundant supplies of mercy and salvation, and gives us a promise of eternal life.[13]

CONCLUSION

Despite the supposed wrong done to us, so great is forgiveness that we can know that we will be forgiven if we forgive others. To truly forgive another person may be one of the most challenging commandments for us to keep, but with Christ, all things are possible

May we, my dear family, conquer evil with compassion, forgive all things, and so receive the remission of our sins. Forgive me.

THROUGH THE PRAYERS OF OUR HOLY FATHERS, LORD JESUS CHRIST, HAVE MERCY ON US. AMEN.

 

[1] The Romanov Royal Martyrs: What Silence Could Not Conceal. (Athens: Mesa Potamos Publications, 2019), 371.

[2] The Lenten Triodion. (South Canaan: St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, 2002), 47.

[3] Cf. Canticles Four, Six, and Seven, of the Canon for Forgiveness Sunday.

[4] Cf. Canticle One of the Canon for Forgiveness Sunday.

[5] Sessional Hymn, Tone Four at “Matins” for Forgiveness Sunday.

[6] Cf. Ikos at “Matins” for Forgiveness Sunday.

[7] Cf. Canticle Seven of the Canon for Forgiveness Sunday.

[8] Cf. Stichera at the Verses  of “Matins” for Forgiveness Sunday.

[9] “Homily Forty-eight” in The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian. (Brookline: Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 2011), 364.

[10] “On the Lord’s Prayer: A short interpretation addressed to a devout Christian” in The Philokalia (Boston: Faber & Faber, 1984)2:301.

[11] “A Treasury of Divine Knowledge” in The Philokalia (Boston: Faber & Faber, 1984)3:95.

[12] “Homilies on the Gospel of Saint Matthew”, ed. Philip Schaff in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series. (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1999) 10:380f.

[13] “Homily Thirty-six” in Saint Gregory Palamas: The Homilies. (Essex: Mount Thabor Publishing, 2014), 288.




Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.


Also in Sermons & Homilies

A Word on the Coronavirus: Sorrow Turned Into Joy
A Word on the Coronavirus: Sorrow Turned Into Joy

April 08, 2020

Reflections from Holy Cross Monastery concerning the coronavirus, on the Feast of the Annunciation

Continue Reading

Faithful Daughter of Faithful Abraham - A Homily for the Annunciation (2020)
Faithful Daughter of Faithful Abraham - A Homily for the Annunciation (2020)

April 07, 2020 1 Comment

The miraculous event we commemorate today—the mystery hidden before the ages and unknown even to the angels—has its origins even outside of time, and so it had been at work already for millennia. Today is fulfilled God’s promise to faithful Abraham that in his seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.

Continue Reading

Repentance and the Glory of God - A Sermon for the Sunday of St. Mary of Egypt (2020)
Repentance and the Glory of God - A Sermon for the Sunday of St. Mary of Egypt (2020)

April 05, 2020

What is the gate of repentance which leads to divine and eternal life in God? The awareness of our sinfulness before Him. Such an awareness of sin came to St. Mary whom all Orthodox Christians commemorate today as a lofty standard of true, life-transforming repentance. However, as we see from her life, an awareness of our sins is often brought about by a seeming misfortune, or impasse, or perplexity in our life.

Continue Reading