The Poor, Debts & Your Enemies: Learning to Forgive

He who has pity on the poor makes a debtor of God. (Prov. 19:17) Jesus told a story about a man with a huge debt. He owed it to his master and was unable to pay. When he was dragged before his master, he begged for mercy. Strangely, the master was so moved by the man’s begging that he forgave him the entire debt. This same man, Jesus said, turned around and…

The Danger and Shame of Forgiveness

Forgiveness is so terribly hard. On a psychological level, it feels dangerous. The shame engendered by any insult or injury is our experience of vulnerability, and we instinctively react to protect ourselves. That, we must understand, is not a sin, it is an instinct that is a gift from God. The example of Christ, who did not “turn His face from the spitting and the shame,” is also the example of just…

To Become My Enemy

With the unending political cycle that is America’s public life, there is also an endless identification of enemies. And, of course, this year the enemies seem to come out of central casting – it would be hard to invent characters more susceptible to caricature. The Church has entered something of a political season as well. The upcoming Holy and Great Council has already revealed various fault lines that have long existed within…

Justice, Forgiveness and Bearing a Little Shame

This morning I read a headline in the newspaper: “We will get justice.” In the relentless cycle of the daily news, the report was of the discovery of a young woman who had been murdered. It seemed a completely appropriate response by the law officer in charge of the investigation. His words doubtless echoed the sentiments of everyone who knew the young woman. The desire for justice is primal, and among the…

Why We Forgive

There are many ways to think about forgiveness, not all of them true or helpful. It is easily the most emotionally and psychologically difficult aspect of the Christian life revealing both the power of trauma as well as the tenacity of lingering memories. The directness of Christ’s commandments (“forgive your enemies”) and the consequences of ignoring them (“if you do not forgive others neither will your heavenly Father forgive you”) can easily…

Forgiveness – The Hardest Love of All

I cannot think that any of my readers is a stranger to forgiveness, either the need to be forgiven or the need to forgive. The need to forgive, according to the commandment of Christ, extends well beyond those who ask for our forgiveness: we are commanded to forgive our enemies – whom I presume would rarely want to ask for our forgiveness. Of course, our experience of those who are truly enemies…

Dostoevsky and the Sins of the Nation

For many, the idea that we are somehow responsible for the sins of others, or can repent on their behalf is counter-intuitive and deeply troubling. It is distinctly non individualistic. However, it is a cornerstone of Orthodox devotion. Dostoevsky presented a very popular version of this teaching in the words of the fictitious character, the Elder Zosima, in his The Brothers Karamozov. The elder was modeled, many say, on the elders of…

A Generous Repentance

I have learned over time to expect cultural expressions of the Orthodox faith that are mentioned nowhere in books and articles. Many of these surround major life events and their sacraments: Baptism, Marriage, Funerals. And so I was not surprised when the family of a recently deceased Romanian in my community called me for help giving away his clothes. I was told that it needed to be done before the end of…

If We Confess Our Sins

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1Jo 1:9) Confession is treated as one of the sacraments (mysteries) of the faith. In most cases it is done with a priest, within the confines of the canonical discipline of the Church. But what makes a good confession? I have written here recently that sin is not a “legal” problem.…

Sweet Commandments

Somewhere in the early ’70’s, I recall being in a group of Church youth. They were singing a song based on Psalm 19: The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring…