Sunday, March 10 (O.S.: February 25), 2019: Sunday of the Expulsion of Adam from the Paradise (Forgiveness or Cheesefare Sunday).
Ss Cyril & Methodius Orthodox Church
Epistle: Romans 13:11-14; 14:1-4
Gospel: Matthew 6:14-21
Glory to Jesus Christ!
Slapping me on the shoulder, my friend Rabbi Joe once told me, “I like you, Fr Gregory! You think like a Jew! You forgive everything but forget nothing!”
I’m not exactly sure what Rabbi meant but I’ll defer to his judgment as to what it means to be Jewish. What I can say is that forgiveness is central to both Judaism and Christianity.
For Orthodox Christianity, forgiveness is the evidence of the truth of the Gospel that
Christ is risen from the dead, Trampling down death by death,
And upon those in the tombs Bestowing life!
Jesus tells us not only to forgive our enemies and love those who persecute us (see Matthew 5:44) but that we are to do so “seven times seventy time” (see Matthew 18:22).
And when He appears to His disciples after the Resurrection He grants them the power to “bind and loosen” (Matthew 18:18) the sins of others: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:23).
In all this, we should lose sight of the fact that we are able to forgive because we have been forgiven by God.
For most of us, most of the time, the sins we forgive, like the sins for which we need forgiveness, are usually petty. We are all of us primarily perpetrators and victims not of great injustices but minor annoyances. We are slowly “nibbled to death by ducks” rather than quickly killed by the sword.
This is why in her wisdom, the Church asks us to begin the season of the Great Fast by participating in the Rite of Mutual Forgiveness. We have all of us sinned against each of us even if only in mostly minor ways.
There is a caution that is important here.
The formality of the rite–”Forgive me a sinner!” “God forgives!”–is appropriate when the offense is minor and so easily forgiven and forgotten.
But if the offense is serious, if we were the victim or perpetrator of some great injustice, the formality of the rite is inappropriate. Simply saying “Forgive me a sinner!” would work against forgiveness and undermine reconciliation.
In the case of a serious offense, the formality of the words would not unreasonably be seen as a way of minimizing the harm and of forgetting the past without working to build–or rather, re-build, trust.
In the case of a serious offense, the formality of the Rite of Forgiveness erodes whatever trust is left between us. It says to the one I have harmed that I don’t take seriously the offense I’ve given and so I don’t take seriously the harm he has suffered.
As I said, the Rite of Forgiveness isn’t meant to undo “deadly sins” (see 1 John 5:17) but the myriad minor infractions we all of us commit and suffer daily. The latter can be easily forgiven, while the former requires not only that I go to Holy Confession but that I seek to make right personally and practically the wrong that I’ve done.
But today, today we approach each other with a generous, forgiving and repentant heart for the small offenses we have given and received.
But this doesn’t undermine what I said a moment ago. Our mutual forgiveness is evidence of the truth of the Resurrection, that the power of sin and death have been overcome (see Romans 8:2).
For all that any single offense is minor, in the aggregate, they are as deadly as any single serious sin.
The sad truth is that just as love between a husband and wife, to take only one example, can be killed by one instance of adultery, it can be ground down and destroyed by daily indifference. And like in marriage, infidelity in the spiritual life need not be dramatic to be deadly.
Thinking back almost 30 years later to my friend the late Rabbi Joe, I think what he meant to say was that, a good Jew (and so a good Christian), must always be ready to forgive but never at the expense of denying the harm we do to each other.
Without forgiveness, the harm we do by even the smallest offense is multiplied, eroding trust and affection until love is murdered. Not only is this is something we can never forget it is also something we need to remember.
Let me speaks now simply for myself.
I need to remember this.
I need to remember this not to justify holding grudges but as a reminder of my need to forgive.
I need to remember that even small offenses, over time, will kill love.
Above all, I need to actively seek and extend forgiveness not just for serious sins but also the myriad small and petty offenses of daily life.
My brothers and sisters in Christ! Forgive me a sinner!