Forgiveness vs. approval or condemnation

10 September OS 2015 – Wednesday of the Seventeenth Week after Pentecost (Fifteenth Week of Luke), Afterfeast of the Nativity of the Theotokos, Holy Virgin Martyrs Menodora, Metrodora, and Nymphodora

In today’s Gospel, the Lord gives His command that we forgive our brother.

The Lord said: Have faith in God. For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith. Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them. And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses. – Mark 11: 22-26    

St. Theophan the Recluse points out that self-righteous people do not forgive but only condemn. So he asks,

…so is it better to sin than to be self-righteous? No – be zealous for righteousness in every way; but with all of your righteousness, recognize that you are an unprofitable servant, and recognize this with undivided thought, that is, not with the thought of your unworthiness in the foreground, while the feeling of righteousness hides in the background.   Rather, preserve a full awareness and sense of yourself as unprofitable. When you attain this, (and it takes awhile to get there, for it is not acquired suddenly), then no matter how your brother trespasses against you, you will not call him to account, because your conscience will keep repeating, “You deserve more than this; this is not enough for you.” Then you will forgive him; and having forgiven, you yourself will be made worthy of forgiveness. So, for your whole life, let there be forgiveness after forgiveness, and at the Judgment all shall be forgiven you. – from Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, p. 204

Fallen human nature either approves or condemns. Only divine grace forgives.   Think about it: It is very hard to look at an evil, call it a real evil, and then forgive the person who did it. So what do we do? If we want to be “cool” and get along, we excuse the evil and say it really was not an evil, so that everyone will be “friends” again. This is what society is doing today with incredibly evil behavior like infanticide and sodomy (i.e., abortion and “gay rights”).   Or if we are in a fighting mood and do not care what people think (which can actually be a very good thing), but are full of sinful anger and fear (which is a bad thing), we condemn, call people names, and just decide, whether consciously or unconsciously, just to hate them. Either way, we have given up the spiritual struggle, and either way we go to hell.

Then there are the times someone in our family or at church or one of our friends has simply done us a wrong directly, not some huge societally catastrophic sin, just an injustice to us personally.   In this case, we have to recognize that perhaps our judgment that what they did was in fact a sin may be wrong, because our ego and sense of self-preservation may be interfering with our sense of justice, and it is even more obvious here that we “just have to let go.” Even if what they did to us was in fact a sin, there are sins we have committed that we did not get called on the carpet for, and that we have not paid for, and we have to suffer for them. Our purgatory is now, in this life: it is now or never. So, thank God that someone was unjust to us…maybe now we can be saved.

So, if we stick with trying to have a semblance of spiritual life, it is going to go like this: We are going to try hard to be “good” – say our prayers, fast, be kind, and so forth – and then because of our pride, we are going to develop a secret sense of self-righteousness, that we are not even aware of.   Then someone will do something to us – an insult, an injustice, something – and we are going to “lose it,” and then (one hopes!) we will see how bad we still really are. Then we have to repent, and humble ourselves, and realize that we needed that for our salvation. Then we will try hard to be good, and…the cycle will keep going, until finally some day we “get it.”   And, God willing, we will die with a firm hope in our salvation, having attained that measure of repentance and humility that the Lord has deigned in His grace to give us.

May He bring us all together to life everlasting.


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