St. Macarius said, “If we remember the evil that others have done to us, we shut down our ability to remember God.”
From the Desert Fathers
Memory is a very powerful thing. The older I get, and the more of my earthly life lies behind me instead of before me, memory becomes indeed powerful. I have lived in my present home for almost 20 years, which, for a priest, can be quite a while. In the Orthodox life that we now live – I do not expect to be anywhere else in my lifetime.
Memory, like most things, has two sides. It can be the repository of blessings, the remembrance of the goodness of God, and it can be the repository of bitterness, the remembrance of wrongs. It is obvious in the life of the Church that we are given authority and grace to heal the remembrance of wrongs. Indeed, forgiveness (both of our own sins and those of others) seems to be precisely this power over the past – the grace of God working in us to heal what has been.
The remembrance of God has something which carries it beyond the past, however. In the Divine Liturgy, when the priest speaks the “words of remembrance” (“do this in remembrance of me”) he is not engaging in an act of recalling the past, but an act in which that which was spoken is made present reality. Christ is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. His life and actions are certainly historical, but, at the same time, they transcend any particular moment of history. The historical is united to the ahistorical: time and eternity find a union within Him.
By the same token, our “remembrance” of God is itself a union of time and eternity in which we (the timely) are united to the Eternal, and the timelessness of the Messianic Banquet is set before us. This is proper Christian eschatology (concern with the “last” things).
The remembrance of wrongs is an anti-eschatology. It seeks to make present that which has no true or proper existence. Evil certainly has tragic and destructive effects on the world, but it is still nothing. Evil is not a “something,” but merely the abuse of a free-will. It cannot truly destroy what God has established. It’s existence is a “false existence,” abiding only as a parasite on the truth of our existence.
Thus the remembrance of wrong “shuts down our ability to remember God,” not because we have put something else in God’s place, but because we have put “nothing” in God’s place. Forgiveness is the great tool of justice which God has given us. For with forgiveness we fill with goodness and the wholeness of love what before was only darkness and the emptiness of hatred and anger.
The good thief, crucified beside our Lord, found salvation “in a single moment.” His request, “Remember me when you come into Your kingdom,” is a confession of faith that recognizes that the remembrance of God, and the remembrance by God, is triumphant over every sin and every evil. It is the triumph of “that which is” over “that which is not.”
Paradise is never far away from us – it is in our hearts and on our lips as we remember God.
As the Romanian Elder Cleopa constantly greeted his disciples, “May paradise consume you!”
My it indeed consume us and with us sweep away every memory of wrong in the fullness of the remembrance of God.