Remembrance of wrongs comes as the final point of anger. It is a keeper of sins. It hates a just way of life. It is the ruin of virtues, the poison of the soul, a worm in the mind. it is the shame of prayer, a cutting off of supplication, a turning away from love, a nail piercing the soul. It is a pleasureless feeling cherished in the sweetness of bitterness. It is a never-ending sin, an unsleeping wrong, rancor by the hour. A dark and laothesome passion, it comes to be but has no offspring, so that one need not say much about it.A man who has put a stop to anger has also wiped out remembrance of wrongs, since offspring can come only from a living parent.
St. John of the Ladder, 9
Reading works such as The Ladder by St. John Climacus is fruitful work for the soul during seasons of repentance. Such writings often show us far more about our hearts than we are ready to learn. Associating with other human beings on a regular basis (either as a pastor, or even as an active Church member, or simply from being observant at work on any given day) offers a constant education in the ways of the human heart. The remembrance of wrongs is just one of many burdens which weigh heavily on the soul and make it impossible for it to rise above itself to anything heavenly. Such remembrance also has the capacity to weigh down everything around it.
A vast amount of our planet is engaged at any given moment in the remembrance of wrongs. It seems the older the country or civilization, the longer the list of wrongs, and the more deeply they run. For a youthful America it is sometimes baffling. But I can recall growing up as a child of the South and being taught the remembrance of wrongs from my elders as they rehearsed a heavily edited version of the American Civil War. I got over it, but the wrongs suffered by my family were few (if any). There was not so much to remember.
The wrongs that have been done by one human family to another are incalculable. They frequently run for centuries and carry vengeance for vengeance and wrong for wrong. As has been said, “An eye for an eye and the whole world’s blind.”
I know that on the individual level the remembrance of wrongs is a dead end – as St. John said, “It comes to be but has no offspring so one need not say much about it.” But it can be a confining memory, one whose existence grows ever smaller until we find our heart so squeezed that nothing but pain can come from it.
And thus we come to the formidable act of forgiveness. Forgiveness is the infinity of God – it has no limits. It opens the heart to light and truth and banishes the darkness of unforgotten evils. It is perhaps the most difficult of all tasks that human beings undertake. I do not believe that it lies within our power. Only the mercy of God and great grace (the very Life of God) working in us can make forgiveness possible. This is all the more reason we should seek to have our hearts filled with forgiveness – for when they are such – they are filled with God and are truly great.
Among the most godlike acts in all of Scripture are the final words of the Protomartyr Stephen, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge” (Acts 7:60). In that single act of forgiveness he comformed his life to that of Christ. I believe as well that he sowed the seeds of the conversion of St. Paul (Saul at that time) who stood by “consenting to his death.” There was no remembrance of wrong to crush the heart of Paul, but a remembrance of a right that was so astounding that his own heart must have ached at its every echo.
In many ways, the whole of the Gospel is to be found in St. Stephen’s words, for nothing so marks the actions and deeds of the Gospel than God’s unrelenting forgiveness and refusal to remember our wrongs. Instead He is the God to whom a thief can dare to say, “Remember me this day when you come into your kingdom.”
What do you think of the Forth Crusade?
Thank you for this Father. Malice is an extremely difficult sin to overcome. In fact, I believe it is even harder for converts, and the most difficult for adult converts, to overcome this. God forbid a Jew should become a Christian, the Jewish religion practices remembrance of wrongs as a way of life. The Ladder is an appropriate book for all times for the life of a Christian is the life of remembrance, and even the icon of the Ladder is instructive for children. As you say, Glory be to God for all things!
Well, Father, you do it again! I was just discussing this very topic with a friend a couple of nights ago as I was lamenting my 7 year old son’s unseemly attachment to anger towards his little sister and general unwillingness to forgive. As I expressed my concern for him and his little soul to this friend, my own sin in this area was aptly pointed out to me.
“A man who has put a stop to anger has also wiped out remembrance of wrongs, since offspring can come only from a living parent.”
Lord have mercy.
I’m working on letting go of it. It’s interesting, don’t you think, that even as converts, we can pick up the remembrance of wrongs done a 1000 years ago (frequently by our own ancestors) as if they had been done to us. The human heart is just strange.
You gave me a good laugh this morning!
I am sorry, what is the Fourth Crusade? I meant to say yesterday that the Christian life is a life of repentance, so the Ladder is appropriate reading at any time. Also, I read on placidity and meekness last night, the chapter before malice. The first solution to anger is to keep my mouth shut!
Can I ask about that phrase Father? “I’m working on letting go of it.”
I have known the wisdom from even my earliest years that holding a grudge is harmful to the soul. But how does one actually get rid of the grudge when it persists? What’s the process?
My wife and I often talk about some sins in our lives which seem unsolvable. They seem to respond not to wisdom or self-discipline. They persist and we suffer. It seems so unfathomable. I can forgive a thousand times, but then suddenly I can’t forgive some particular thing.
Quoting Artisticmisfit: “Malice is an extremely difficult sin to overcome. In fact, I believe it is even harder for converts, and the most difficult for adult converts, to overcome this.” Excuse me??
It was meant as a joke. The 4th Crusade is not a remembered wrong for me…:)
Kay, I would agree that I don’t think malice or anything else is any harder for one group than another – not in my experience. It’s all hard.
And David, again,
I believe the medicine of our healing is the sacraments themselves. We take things to confession and make a good effort and accept whatever a priest may offer us, and most especially the grace of the sacrament that is a true forgiveness. And we make as good a communion as possible, forgiving everyone as much as in us lies. And we do it repeatedly, and we pray, and, in time (grace is slow, as I’ve written), we come to find that healing has occurred. I’ve watched this. It is true.
Father Stephen, I respectfully disagree with Kay and would ask her to moderate her a tone a bit. It makes logical sense. The older you are when you come to the font, the more resentments you have built up. There is nothing illogical about that. Also, if praying for your enemies and for those you resent has not been a way of life for you, it is going to be harder to adapt those ways. I take it Kay is not a convert? Perhaps there are other atheist converts in this discussion that could contribute? When I say atheist, I mean atheist in the broadest sense of the term, didn’t believe in Jesus Christ as God.
I would agree, except that I have frequently seen people who have grown up in the faith who have not regularly prayed for their enemies, etc. It depends on the spritual life they have lived, etc. I think it varies enough that it is hard to draw conclusions. I don’t know why you take it Kay is not a convert, I have no way of knowing except someone says. Believers can have a range of experiences and conclusions. At least as I’ve encountered them.
In reading your comment sir, it is quite easy to interpret it as carrying the implication that converts (former athiest or not) have a more difficult time overcoming their own malice towards those who have done them wrong, and would thus have a hard time getting to the point of asking for God’s forgiveness for them. Hence the question – which was not meant to be disrespectful. Please accept my apology.
Kay, may I ask why you made an assumption about my gender? My pen name is gender neutral. I know this is entering dangerous territory, but I always find it interesting when people do that.
Oh, forgive me, one more thing. This isn’t about God’s forgiveness for ourselves, but our ability to forgive His creatures that have wronged us. Sometimes we have to ask for the willingness to be willing to forgive. I thought we could simply ask God to forgive our offenders for us, but I was told that was incorrect, hence the Lord’s prayer. Its really a very difficult path, whether you are Orthodox or not, or even say the Lord’s prayer in a spiritual and not a religious context. The last thing we want to do as fallen men is to forgive someone who has hurt us. We want revenge. That is human nature.
Having been on the receiving end myself, as well as “through my ancestors”, I would add one should keep on forgiving. Sometimes, the bitterness bounces back, and needs to be taken down again. Not that you try to remember yourself, but somebody will as k a question, and it comes back. Forgiveness needs to be a discrete temporal act as well as a repetative act and an enduring mindset.
One of the first true struggles that I had when coming into Orthodoxy was to truly forgive. As I daily struggle with this, the words “forgive my tresspasses as I forgive those who tresspass against me” rings loudly in my heart. My request is that those words will forever ring in me so that I can achieve salvation. If we do not love and forgive, we cannot gain salvation. Thank you for your wonderful bolg and obedience to HIM that calls us. As Aslan said int the Cilver Chair ” you called me because I have been calling you !”
I ought to double check my typing, I meant The Silver Chair
The answer to you gender question is: no time to type the usual “Dear Sir or Madam” for polite entries (am at work. Peeking in at this wonderful blogsite keeps me smiling at the customers!) I don’t make a gender assumption unless someone clearly indicates it; and even then, you never really know for sure…
I have never assumed that malice and the desire for revenge are anyone’s “default condition” until shown otherwise, on an individual basis,
regardless of their background. I do this, despite having spent serious time on “the receiving end” (to quote the poster above.) Even when bitterness is not an issue, real forgiveness is very hard. Am so grateful for Father Stephen’s posting, and for the additional comments on this topic.
Well Kay, I would dig even deeper than and suggest that when we are on the receiving end of malice and hatred that we need to look in ourselves for the cause. Why are we attracting negativity? That is about the only solution I can offer up at this point. The internet can be very damaging to one’s productivity while working, and we must be careful. If we look at the icons, are the saints smiling?
Quoting:”Well Kay, I would dig even deeper than and suggest that when we are on the receiving end of malice and hatred that we need to look in ourselves for the cause. Why are we attracting negativity?”
Beats me. I suffered serious, serious abuse as a very young child. Attracting negativity??
For me, the most difficult task as an Orthodox Christian is to truly forgive and to forget the wrongs. When I feel wounded or injured and go to Confession, those past wrongs that I have committed, but also that I feel have been inflicted on me, are cleansed–temporarily. But the little devils (demons) return, and I am afflicted once again. I am wondering exactly how I can be purged of the remembrance of wrongs. My only solution thus far has been to remove myself from the environment where the memories return to haunt me. Any ideas?
Time. Prayer. The Sacraments. And more of the same.
Whenever this topic comes up, I think of G. K. Chesterton, who, as a schoolboy, was slapped across the face so hard by an instructor that he lost the hearing in one ear. When he was 80 YEARS OLD, he wrote that he felt he had finally forgiven that instructor — up to then, it was a matter of forgiving again, and forgiving again, and forgiving again, whenever he felt himself remembering and growing angry over that incident. Gives me hope for the many times I have to forgive a remembered wrong, *yet again.*
Three thoughts come to mind:
Augustine, among others, said that “All is grace.” (which one can spend every monute of everyday reflecting on and it would be akin to “unceasing prayer” in my book). Einstein, in typical wonder at the miracle that is “matter”, said that this whole universe was like part of someone’s incredible dream. And St. Paul beat him to it 2000 years ago by saying that everything that exists is in Christ. (Col.1:17).
Kay, I am sorry you suffered that, but I do believe that sets you up for future abuse if you do not address it.
Meg, thanks for sharing that anecdote. Some people in the Church really like Chesterton.
I think that this is not a matter you can generalize about unless you know the case and its details. It can also be a painful area in someone’s life – hard to discuss in the forum of the internet. May God help us all with all that we have to do – and forgive us even where we fail to forgive.
Thank you, Father Stephen.
Forgive me for not asking for your blessing earlier.
I too suffered as a child, to the point of developing a disability because of it after my divorce which interfered with my ability to work outside the home. I am trying to be emphatic to Kay. I learned today that silence implies consent, for what its worth. I am trying to think of how to blend that with St. John Climacus teaching us to keep our mouth shut when we are angry. There is this whole thing about breaking silence about abuse as a political statement, which unfortunately tends to back lash…
There is a secular book called The Courage to Heal with helps women who were abused as children, for example. And depression, of course, plays into all of this, often childhood abuse causes depression.
The organization I was thinking of yesterday came to mind on a walk, OCAMPR.
Anyways, sometimes we have intuition and we can read people, but you are correct, in public it is often not wise to address these personal matters.
Thank you for providing a space to communicate about sensitive issues.
Thanks for the sharing – it is an important insight. So much that we have to be healed of is not of our own making – sin is frequently best seen as a wound. I will pray for you and the many others among us who have been abused (the younger the age, the deeper the wound, I’m told). May God in his mercies do for us all what we cannot do for ourselves nor even imagine.
Thank you and all for your patience with each other and with me. Together we can make this place a good place to be and to share and to hear and learn.
In the past year I have received private emails or other correspondence that thank me for the role the blog has played in a conversion or catechumenate. If I take all of them together it would be more than the number of members in my parish. This is something all of us share in together – for sometimes the most important things said in a particular posting is to be found in the comments and not by me. May God thank you all. Within the next 2 weeks we will have had over a half million views and the rate of views continues to grow. May God continue to bless us all and multiply His Church.
A member of my parish actually emailed us about your blog, the Ostrov review, before she showed us the movie. This is like a pan-Orthodox global parish. It is a wonderful place. It is good to know we are on air here out in public, it helps us to mind our manners. I look forward to your next post. This is indeed a safe place. Thank you again. I may email you my Christian name if you do not mind so you can pray for me properly. Please keep it in confidence. Is your email on your blog?
My email address is not on the blog – but my parish website St. Anne Orthodox Church is on the blogroll. My email address is available there.
Dear father, evlogeite.
It is probably the way I read it, but I found the example on the Civil War a little puzzling to understand, esp. as you seem to be talking with over-generalisations on a national level. Of course, Orthodoxy is supra-national, it surpasses the borders of nations. Nevertheless, the fallen state of man has borders and until such a time when we reach the stage when Orthodoxy becomes the centre of man’s life on this planet, we cannot ignore the current situations.
Did you mean that these family members resented individual people in the North/South due to past concerns on the War instead of forgiving them?
I believe that is what you meant and that would be clearly in the wrong. However to forgive, one must know the truth of what happened. For supposing it is decided that they should put behind them the Civil War history and never think about it. Now that would also be wrong.
Then I realised that my confusion was most likely because a more careful distinction between “remembrance of wrongs” against our neighbour and issues pertaining to historical memory between nations etc. needs to be made. Again, this is because you talked on a national level making over-generalisations. Of course, this is a vast topic with many subtle points that it would be impossible to bring here (I do not have that kind of time) and clearly not something to lightly discuss over a “daily blog entry”.
However, if there were valid issues which historically need to be maintained, they should be maintained without however falling into hatred. Keeping a historical memory becomes an example so we do not repeat the errors of the past. This is the reason why nations need to do this on a national level, for “security” purposes (both defensive and to avoid expansionist outlook of others due to propaganda). Unfortunately, not everyone who has done wrongs IS sorry about it, esp. on an administrative level. Propaganda keeps running rampart and historical memory can be the only means that may avoid wars in the future.
Loving our enemies does not mean that we forget what has taken place. Part of every New Order (esp. the one we are already seeing on the horizon) is to “forget” so any form of propaganda can foster, once historical amnesia seeps in.
A good example of the sort of thing I mean can be found in the person of the Equal-to-the-Apostles St. Kosmas Aetolos who never stopped reminding the Romeans (“Greeks”) to keep their historical memory, something that also cost him his life (he would often cauterize the historical errors of some Jewish leaders who conspired to have him executed by the Turkish Pasha).
Another good example is Hitler’s legacy. Truly, it was despicable and rightfully people condemn this (without this implying that we hate the Germans).
reveal the legacy of Zionism and its connection with Nazism. Should this historical memory of the other holocaust against the Jews be forgotten too? And what about Mussolini? And what about the other “Hitler” known as Pavelic, whose “work” in Croatia was blessed by the “butcher of the Serbs” Stepinac (incidentally also turned into a Saint by John Paul II in Croatia, 1998)? Should all this be “swept under the carpet” in the name of “love”?
We must keep a historical memory. First Truth, then Love. There can be no Love without Truth.
An important case example of the sort of thing can be found for one of the “oldest countries and civilizations” viz. the Christian Roman Empire and civilization where the list of wrongs does run high — and while no Orthodox Romean Christian living in the West true to the spirit of Orthodoxy would ever foster hatred against any Westerner, these facts should be learned and never forgotten, esp. in our days when there is a conscious policy to wipe out the historical memory and the “remorse” of those in charge is expressed partially and on rare occasions with crocodile tears. In particular, the following is a must read:
We love the people and forget their wrongs but we do not leave the wrongs out of history (of course, without excluding our own or our own ancestors’ and history’s wrongs – e.g. Constantinople’s Monotheletism caused the martyrdom of Pope Martin I, Hellenic Idolatry was, is and will be a menace against Christianity, the “convenienced” Romeans rushed to the Florentine pseudo-Synod when the anti-Papists were hoping we would instead cite with them; had there not been God to send us St. Mark of Ephesus we’d have also lost our Orthodoxy etc. etc.).
Thank you for your note and reminder of important historical points. I removed two links because I did not have time to read their full content or check their veracity – in a very sensitive area. The internet contains many things of which we cannot always be certain. But your point remains. Thank you.
I’m new to this blog, and I appologize I couldn’t read the entire comments, but they are all interesting! thank you so much!
Father, I recently had a big work related problem with the lab manager at my school, and just being arround this person makes me loose my temper… instead of induring the suffering, I asked to be moved to a diffrent project that doesn’t involve dealing with him…
Did I do the right thing? I mean if I don’t deal with the guy, it would be easier for me to forgive and forget, or did I take the easy way out?
It would be hard to know without knowing lots of specifics. What remains is the need to pray for the grace to forgive (which heals the heart so that “forget” is not an issue). Such grace takes quite some time to work. If we do not want to forgive, then we need to “want to want to” or even more than that. It is difficult. Begin by praying, “O God, at judgment day, do not hold this against him on my account.” It’s an easier place to begin.
Thank you father, I’ll make sure to say this prayer as often as I can! that’s big help, thank you!
Can I bother you with something father, can you provide me with a link that posts lives of Saints? When I read about their lives I find it easier to find inspiration and I learn a lot… but I haven’t been able to find many links that were helpfull
Thank you again
The lives of the saints available on the OCA website is excellent.
Thanks this website is great help! I recommended it to all my friend!