As we stand at the door of the Great Fast on this last Sunday before Lent the Church turns our attention to the issue of forgiveness. Not only do we have the gospel and the hymns of this Sunday which are focused on forgiveness but, at Vespers on this Sunday, we conclude with the rite of mutual forgiveness.
It is, I believe, helpful for us to understand the practice of forgiving others by looking to the teaching of the Fathers. When we do this we find forgiveness is often referred to as "not remembering wrongs". This might sound like a strange description for forgiveness but in this simple phrase and what it implies we find a practical teaching to aid us in forgiving others.
Our spiritual struggle is primarily against the thoughts. Every temptation comes to us as a thought and if we can ignore that thought and give our mind and attention to Christ then we can resist the temptation. Think, for example, about the temptation to judge our brother. If, rather than engage the thought, we can turn our attention to our own sins and judging ourselves then the thought of judging our brother will evaporate.
The fathers treat forgiveness the same way. If we can, when the thought of a hurt or wrong done to us comes knocking at the door of our mind, refuse to open the door and turn our mind, rather, to Christ in prayer, the thought will go away. Of course it might return! But we simply continue to ignore it, turning our mind continually to repentance and humility and love in prayer. When we do this we are, in essence, refusing to remember the wrong. We choose, rather, to remember God: His love for us, and our own continual need for mercy. We supplant one thought – the remembrance of the wrong – with another, better thought. And when we do this continually the remembrance of the wrong done to us by our brother slowly loses its power and overtime becomes impotent.
The key here, as always, is humility. When we confess our weakness and our own need for mercy we attract the grace of God which is infinitely more powerful than any evil thought. If, on the other hand, we listen to the thought, the memory of our brother's sin against us, that thought will gain power because our pride and passion will allow the thought to plant itself like an evil seed nurtured by our passions that begins to grow until it produces the fruit of hatred.
Rather than feeling powerless and helpless against the memory of wrongs done to us the teaching of the Fathers liberates us and shows us a way out of the vicious cycle of the remembrance of wrongs. And this liberation, much more than simply a negative freedom from sin, is a positive force - grace - the freedom to love God and our brother, who is in the image of God. Through forgiveness, brothers and sisters, let us enter the Lenten springtime of our souls.
With love in Christ,
“Give me a word!”
Prolonged fasting and prayer is in vain. Without forgiveness and true mercy…. That God may forgive us, let us forgive men, We are all on this earth as temporary guests.
+St Nikolai Velimirovich
We have such a law: If you forgive, it means that God has forgiven you; but if you do not forgive your brother, it means that your sin remains with you.
+St Silouan the Athonite
The forgiveness of insults is a sign of true love, free from hypocrisy. For thus the Lord also loved this world.
+St Mark the Ascetic
Some, for the sake of forgiveness, give themselves up to labors and struggles, but a man who is forgetful of wrongs excels them. If you forgive quickly, then you will be generously forgiven.
You will know that you have completely got rid of this rot [the remembrance of wrongs]…only when, on hearing that [the one who has offended you] has fallen into spiritual or bodily misfortune, you suffer and weep for him as for yourself.
+St John Climacus