I am grateful for the patience of my readers – I have written less in the past few weeks – instead mostly posting quotes from the Fathers. It’s not a laziness on my part but an opportunity to go to a well that is far deeper than myself and a great help when I am in a very busy season in the parish.
This Sunday we draw to the edge of Great Lent, and inaugurate that fast with the service of Forgiveness Vespers, at the end of which, many Orthodox will practice the “rite of forgiveness” with priest asking forgiveness from each individual in the congregation and each member of the congregation asking forgiveness of each other member of the congregation. There are variations on how the rite is practiced – but that is our pattern in my parish.
Forgiveness is not only a commandment: “Forgive and you will be forgiven;” or even “Forgive your enemies,” etc. It is perhaps among the greatest and most important commandments. For the power of forgiveness can hardly be overstated.
It has the power to change the past. Perhaps that seems like an overstatement – but a wound delivered to me in the past – can be changed and rendered harmless through forgiveness, thus changing the power of the past over the present and the future.
Forgiveness is the triumph of the age to come over all other things. Thus, in our hymnography at Pascha we are told, “Let us forgive all by the resurrection.” For in the resurrection, that is, in the age to come, what grudge would you keep? And if you would not keep it then, why do you keep it now?
In some of the stories concerning Christ’s ministry it is clear that He makes little or no distinction between the forgiveness of sin and physical healing. It is certainly true that sin can have a physical effect. But if you knew that you possessed an elixir, the result of which when taken, would heal any disease, from whom would you withhold it? Why then would we withhold forgiveness from any when in many cases it would be an elixir of health?
Some will say that they would forgive if only the other person would first ask for forgiveness. But the love of God is made manifest to us in that “while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” The nature of the forgiveness we are taught does not presuppose that repentance has preceded it. It is a gift freely given without any neccessary deserving. If you believe you are saved by grace, then why do you not extend grace to all around you?
I have made it a practice in my personal life to go back through the years, even to childhood, to remember things that were matters of a grudge. A bully who made life hard for me – a parishioner who spoke evil of me without cause, etc. I make a point of praying (secretly) for them by name each time I offer the Holy Eucharist, while I am also praying for all those others whom I would normally remember. I do not know if I can yet truly forgive all by the resurrection. But I pray for all, and I want to forgive. I pray that nothing I have done to any will be a cause for stumbling, nor that anything that has been done to me will be held against them on the day of judgment. Not for my sake would I see anyone estranged from God.
Forgiveness is the great “allee-allee-in-come-free” (as in the children’s game of hide and seek) of the cosmos. If we forgive all, are we not in paradise?