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…

It’s A Crying Shame

Orthodox Christians make a beginning of their Lenten discipline with the forgiving of everyone for everything (theoretically). This is expressed in the rite of forgiveness which is part of Vespers on the Sunday of Cheesefare. The ritual expression of forgiveness can easily and often be little more than a ritual. It reminds us of the need to forgive, but does not, on its own, achieve what it expresses. This should not be…

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…

Getting Back Up

One of the fathers was asked, “What do you do all day in the monastery?” He replied, “We fall down and get up; fall down and get up; fall down and get up again.” This, I think, may be the most accurate and faithful description of the Christian life that I know. We fall, and we fall repeatedly. Our very best intentions often serve to make the sting of the fall all…

The Last Banquet

Since we’re thinking about heaven and hell… Once a week I teach a class at a local alcohol and drug treatment program. It is on the “spirituality of recovery.” Recently I shared Marmaladov’s speech from Crime and Punishment (at the end of this article). There were tears in the room. For many, the version of the gospel they have heard only condemns. Most of the men I meet want to get well, to get…

No More Debt

It is a situation that has become all too familiar: overwhelming debt that cannot be repaid. It is an image that the Scriptures know full well. But it is a situation that is easily seen from two sides – and only one of them belongs to God. The two sides are simple: the one who owes the debt and the one to whom the debt must be paid. And the Scriptures have a…

Good Friday and the Irony of Believing

Irony is probably too much to ask of youth. If I can remember myself in my college years, the most I could muster was sarcasm. Irony required more insight. There is a deep need for the appreciation of irony to sustain a Christian life. Our world is filled with contradiction. Hypocrisy is ever present even within our own heart. The failures of Church and those who are most closely associated with it…

Should I Forgive the Unrepentant?

It has been noted that forgiveness is often directly tied to repentance. This is doubtless true, but also fraught with misunderstanding. It is important to understand what forgiveness is and is not and what repentance is and is not. The heart is filled with twists and turns – understanding is helpful at every moment. “Without repentance, there can be no forgiveness.” This, or something similar, is a common sentiment. Before we forgive…

Can You Forgive Someone Else’s Enemies?

I have written from time to time about the concept expressed in Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov, “Forgive everyone for everything.” It is a quote taken from the fictional Elder Zosima, but it is certainly a sentiment well within the bounds of Orthodox thought. I have recently been challenged in several places by people arguing that we cannot forgive those who have not sinned against us – that this right belongs only to the…

Forgiving What We Do Not Know

The first service of Great Lent in the Orthodox Church is “Forgiveness Vespers,” served on the eve of Monday of the First Week. There is nothing unusual about the service itself – other than the “rite of forgiveness” appended to it. In this, the priest and the faithful ask forgiveness of one another. Often this is done with mutual prostrations. Each asks the forgiveness of the other. The rite can take time,…