Progressing in Forgiveness

In the Orthodox Church the Sunday before Lent — the very day before Lent — is called Forgiveness Sunday.  This day calls us to forgive others.  Forgiveness is a spiritual necessity and is necessary for our own forgiveness by God.  Our salvtion in Christ depends on it.  The Gospel reading for the day comes from the sixth chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel:

For if you should forgive men their trespasses, you heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (St. Matthew 6: 14 – 15).

There is no getting out of it, and it is not optional.  Our Lord demands we forgive others.

Offenses, insults, injuries occur to us all.  Living in this world system and interactions with other fallen human beings will lead to such offenses.

Allow me to offer an option to taking offense:  Ignore it.  We are free to turn the other cheek.  We are free in Christ to drop it and let it go.  We are also empowered and free to not respond in like manner.  We can take the attitude that “You are free to think of me in any way you choose, but I am free to bless you.”

But forgiveness can be difficult — very difficult.  The memory of the offense can abide in our minds for years, even decades.  Forgiveness is clearly a process in many cases.  Here is the dividing line with two options.  First, is the memory of the offense and resulting anger, bitterness, and even hatred held fast and treasured?  If this is the case then there is spiritual danger, and one exists in darkness.  The other response is one of struggle.  Here the person knows forgiveness is needed, and is willing to forgive, and asks God to help when the memory is triggered, but the memory and the resulting response persists.  If one is on the side of struggle, then one is entering into light and life no matter how much stumbling accompanies the process.

Memories of the offense may have triggers, or may arise in a random nature.  But in either case there is an element of time travel.  We travel back to the past event.  So, there is a question:  where does the past exist?  It exists only in one place — in our minds!  We are the masters of our minds, and thus our memories when we exist by faith in Christs.  In this reality we are in control!  Let me give an illustration.  I use the analogy of a pond with over hanging trees.  Every autumn the leaves fall from the numerous branches and settle to the pond’s bottom.  There, the leaves decay.  This process will often release a bubble which rises to the surface.  Such is the memory of the offense.  When the “bubble” rises to our consciousness we have two options:  we can allow the “bubble” with its stench to reside on the surface of our consciousness and, then, we spiral out of control.  Or, we can pop the “bubble” with prayers of blessing and mercy  for those contained in the “bubble.”  When we pop the “bubble” we are fasting from resentment and anger.  With this action we engage the process of forgiveness with our Lord guiding us to healing.


Additionally, the process of forgiveness can lead to transformation.  We move from pain to healing that we may become sources of healing, and are able to extend care to those who have suffered also from injury and offense.  St. Paul offers this:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God (2 Corinthians 1: 4 -5).

Therefore, as we allow God to work his gift of forgiveness into us, we can move into joy and thanksgiving.  We do not give thanks for evil done to us or anyone, but in God, evil is transformed to good in us.  For this we can rejoice and give thanks!  As St. Paul also writes,  “Rejoice always.  Pray constantly.  Give thanks in [with and for] all things, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:  16 – 18).

Forgiveness is a process of struggle.  When God is invited to enter into our struggle we will, in time, enter into its freedom.  I pray this brief posting is of some value.  I add the following sermon given Forgiveness Sunday, 2023:

In Christ,

Fr. Irenaeus