A Sermon on Forgiveness Sunday
By Metropolitan Moses of Toronto
On this Sunday, we commemorate our first parent’s fall from paradise, and tomorrow we enter into the arena of the Great Fast.
Adam and Eve fell because they hearkened unto a deceiver that slandered God and His law. If we look around today, we see history repeating itself. At present, Satan speaks through various men who openly defy God and slander His law. What is worse is that there are also men who carry the name of Orthodox priest or bishop and do the work of the evil one, misleading many to abandon the law of God. In order to not fall prey to the evil one’s machinations during this age of confusion, we all must invest the time it takes to learn the teachings of the God-bearing Fathers on faith, doctrine and way of life.
Furthermore, it is essential that we come to a perception of God through our efforts at prayer and the spiritual life. Coming to a perception of God is precisely what Great Lent is all about. Great Lent is a time in the year when we put aside the noise of life and try to purify ourselves before God through fasting and prayer. In his work, “The Theory of Knowldege of Saint Isaac the Syrian,” Saint Justin Popovich comments on the relationship between the knowledge of God and spiritual perception:
It is very difficult, and often impossible, to express in words the mystery and nature of knowledge. In the realm of human thought, there is no ready definition that can explain it completely. St. Isaac therefore gives many different definitions of knowledge. He is continually exercised in this matter, and the problem stands like a burning question mark before the eyes of this holy ascetic. But the most profound, and to my mind, the most exhaustive answer that man can give to this question is given by St. Isaac in the form of a dialogue:
“Question: What is knowledge?
Answer: The perception of eternal life.
Question: And what is eternal life?
Answer: To perceive all things in God. For love comes through understanding, and the knowledge of God is ruler over all desires. To the heart that receives this knowledge, every delight that exists is superfluous, for there is nothing that can compare with the delight of the knowledge of God.
Knowledge is therefore victory over death, the linking of this life with immortal life and the uniting of man with God…”
Thus, when we hear the words, “knowledge of God,” we should understand that this knowledge includes communion with Him, that is, without communion and participation, we do not have genuine knowledge. We commune with the Source of life and experience victory over death.
We do not know if we will live from one year to the next. The Great Fast is the best opportunity for us to seek after the knowledge of and communion with God with pain of heart. Our present day culture constantly pulls us into distractions and pleasures. In order to profit from Great Lent, we have to consciously choose to judiciously withdraw from the things of the world and spend time on the things of God. This is not the time for family entertainment vacations. If you seek relaxation during the Great Lent, spend some quiet time before the Holy Icons and read your favorite spiritual book.
The ancient ascetics used to say, give blood and receive Spirit. A Christian must bleed a little, that is, have a spirit of self-sacrifice and not of self-indulgence. The Kingdom of Heaven suffereth violence and the violent take it by force. (Matt 11:12) That is, those who force themselves to read and pray and practice the virtues enter the Kingdom of Heaven, that is, they participate in the grace of God. Praying is not easy. Satan tries to weigh us down, and distract us, but if we force ourselves, then consolation will indeed come. If we just try a little in a spirit of humility, we can make progress.
Also, today at vespers, we will have the rite of forgiveness. If we set our hearts on the things of this world, we will never be able to forgive. “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” If our treasure and highest desire is not union with God, we cannot rightly forgive our neighbor. If we cannot forgive, we cannot be freed from the fetters of our own sins. If we do not forgive, how can we recite the Lord’s Prayer, “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Mercy rejoices against judgment.
It is written in the writings of the ascetic fathers that there was once a brother who wished to avenge himself and he spoke to an older and wiser monk and said, “I must avenge myself.” And the other monk said, “No, let things be.” And the other brother said, “No I will have no rest until I avenge myself.” And the older brother said, “Alright, but before we go forth, let us pray”—and the angry monk agreed. Then the older monk said in his prayer, “O God, we don’t need Thee anymore, nor Thy providence or protection over us. Henceforth we will manage our own affairs without Thee.” Then, the mind of the other brother was opened, and he repented and forsook his plan.
There is no man who wishes to hear the words that our Savior said to the wicked servant who refused to forgive his fellow servant, “O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou besoughtest me: Shouldest not thou also have had mercy on thy fellow servant, even as I had mercy on thee?” Yet, we become forgetful of how important it is for us to forgive our neighbor for the sake of our own salvation.
And the conclusion to this parable should be enough to convince any believer to forgive, “And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall My heavenly Father do also unto you, except each of you forgive from your hearts the trespasses of his brother.” (Matt 18:32-35)
Let us forgive so that we can be forgiven. Anyone that learns to forgive from the bottom of their heart will receive grace from our Savior.
For those of us who are seeking forgiveness, it is important for us to remember that God sees all. According to the words of our Savior, the only genuine way to seek forgiveness is to repent over our sin.
Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him. (Luke 17:3-4)
“If he repents, forgive him.”– Repentance is not empty words. If any have defrauded someone, let that person imitate Zacchaeus and restore what he took. If anyone has slandered, let him admit to his audience that what he said was false and then speak the truth. A man who approaches the forgiveness ritual with empty words and no effort towards genuine repentance deceives himself and receives no grace. Let that not be the case with any of us.
Keeping these things in mind, let us humbly ask each other for forgiveness and forgive each other from the heart. Let us make a good beginning to the fast. As it says in the hymn from the Cheese-Fare Sunday night Vespers, “…Behold, now is the acceptable time, behold, now is the time of repentance. Let us put away the works of darkness, and put on the armour of light, that having sailed through the great sea of the Fast, we may arrive at the Third day Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Who saveth our souls.”
The clergy are men that are capable of erring. I ask you all for forgiveness for anything wherein I may have sinned against you as a man. May God forgive us all in Christ Jesus. Amen.
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