Tag Archives: forgiveness

We must feel great sorrow for him.

 

Every person who insults us… slanders us… wrongs us in any way, is a brother who fell into the hands of the worker of evil, the devil… We must feel great sorrow for him, sympathize with him, and beseech God fervently and quietly to strengthen us during the hour of our trial and to have mercy on our brother who became a victim of the devil. God will help us as well as him.

+Saint Porphyrios

Let’s open our hearts up to this.

I don’t know if I have ever before considered the difference between the betrayals of Judas and Peter. In a recent podcast for Holy Week Sister Vassa Larin gave a talk on this subject that I found very moving.

Judas is most famous for handing Jesus over to the authorities for the price of 30 pieces of silver. Right up until that momentous event he had been the disciple who had the responsibility for “the bag,” that is, he was the treasurer for the company of Jesus and his friends.

In the Gospel of John we read this telling account:

Then, six days before themary christ-at-bethany Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was who had been dead, whom He had raised from the dead.  There they made Him a supper; and Martha served, but Lazarus was one of those who sat at the table with Him. Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.

But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, who would betray Him, said, “Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it.

But Jesus said, “Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial. For the poor you have with you always, but Me you do not have always.”

What Sister Vassa points out is the lack of love for the Lord that Judas shows  here. She gives an example from modern life, to help us imagine: What if you are a mother whose son brings you flowers, and all your husband can say about the gesture of love is, “What a waste of money!” What would that tell you about his own love for you? And how would you feel?

Christ washing feet interruptingthesilence

We don’t know why Judas had failed to respond to the love of Christ and to reciprocate, but it seems that even at that last supper where he was present with the other disciples, Jesus was giving himself to Judas until the end, humbly washing his feet right along with the others, and offering him in particular a piece of bread from His own hand. As Jesus was speaking about how they ought to love and serve one another, He was doing the same. But Judas did not get it. In the words of Canticle Nine for Holy Wednesday, “…in exchange for money he rejects fellowship with Christ….how hast thou forgotten what Christ taught thee, that thy soul is more in value than the whole world!”

Afterward, when he saw that Jesus was condemned, he regretted what he had done, but Sister Vassa says it seems to be for ethical reasons that Judas regrets it, and not because he sinned against someone he loved. He distances himself from his sin and from the Lord even in his words, not using the name of Jesus but only referring to him as “innocent blood” that he had wrongfully betrayed. Judas immediately gives in to despair and commits suicide. He did not have the loving connection to Christ that would have been the starting point for going in a different direction, back to the fold where he had previously been loved and accepted. As Sr. Vassa says, “Even if you betray someone, love enables you to weep and repent; there is a connection, a personal relationship that still exists even when you fall short.”

mystical supper monreale

Peter, on the other hand, soon after saying that he would lay down his life for Christ, three times denied that he even knew the Lord. He was cut to the heart when Jesus looked pointedly across the courtyard at him, and he realized he had done just what the Lord had warned him about earlier that evening. Peter went out and wept bitterly, which is an appropriate response if you have betrayed and hurt someone you love.

And if you are the betrayed? Some of us may have to share this experience of the human condition, as Christ did. Only God can forgive sins, but as much as possible we would want to respond as our Savior did to Peter, and be glad if those who sin against us are repentant and come back.

Sister Vassa: “When Peter is restored by the risen Lord, the conversation is not about saying sorry, it’s not explicitly about pardon or forgiveness, ‘Let’s get down to analyzing what you did wrong.’ No, it is about affirming love. Three times Christ asks, ‘Do you love me?’ The Lord does not say, ‘What do you have to say for yourself? What have you Peter Christ - do you love medone?’ Peter is allowed thrice to affirm that which is salvific for him; that’s what saves Peter. It’s not even faith; love precedes faith.”

During Holy Week there are many doors through which we might enter to be with the Lord, many personal stories we can relate to, some more than others, but all of which are instructive. Let’s stay with Him, Who is Love. Thanks to Sr. Vassa for her wisdom, and I will close with a longer passage from her podcast:

We can’t forgive sins – only God can forgive sins. “Your sins are forgiven you!” We are so used to hearing that, we almost take it for granted, but this was not clear to those who hadn’t met him yet. This was an incredible gift.

Most of us don’t know what it’s like to live without constant forgiveness. If there were no forgiveness, there would just be suicide. Where do you place those failures? What do you do with your sins? Just how dark would it be? Let’s contemplate the great self-giving and forgiveness going on this week, amidst the great darkness and betrayal and falling short, all the evil in the world crashing down on our Savior who’s not avoiding it. He’s taking it all on, accepting it, walking through it, letting it crush him, letting it kill him, and then he’s descending into the very hell of us, and bringing our humanity out in new life and having overcome all of that darkness. Let’s open our hearts up to this.

Anything less is a bondage.

Fr. Stephen asks rhetorically, “Can You Forgive Someone Else’s Enemies?” with a look at the words and actions of Jesus in the Gospels, and reflecting on the story of The Brothers Karamazov. He writes:

Forgiving is “loosing.” Refusing to forgive is “binding.” The imagery of loosing and binding helps move the imagination away from a legal construction. When we sin, or even when we are involved in sin, we become bound. There is a binding that occurs because we ourselves were the cause of the sin. There is a binding that occurs because we ourselves were the victim of a sin. Thchrist forgiving resurrection 2ere is a binding that occurs because we simply witness the sin. There is even a form of binding that occurs to the whole of humanity because of the diminishment of even one of its members. If everyone were somehow only responsible for their own actions the world would be quite different. As it is, the action of one involves the binding of all. Adam’s sin has left us bound ever since. We are not being held legally responsible for Adam’s action. We are existentially and ontologically bound by Adam’s sin.

These truths are hard to grasp, even for the intellect, and Fr. Stephen helps me quite a bit at that level. But to live in the reality of our freedom, to acquire and absorb and give this kind of liberating love — it’s something impossible, were it not for the fact and the power of the Resurrection. Lent is a good time to pray about this, yes?

I’m looking forward to seeing all of my children at once this weekend, and the thought of them and their tender, breakable and forgiving hearts gives me great comfort; they are a testimony to the kindness of God. And His kindness certainly pertains to the article I was referencing, the whole of which you can read here.

Getting at the heart of our humanity.

This Sunday is Forgiveness Sunday, the last day before Great Lent in the Orthodox Church. During Lent we pray more, give alms, forgive everyone, and generally try to focus on spiritual things and prepare our hearts to receive the grace of the Resurrection of Christ. And of course we fast. We remember the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. This connection is explained well in many articles, one of which I read this week on the blog On Behalf of All. Here are a few excerpts:

….
Adam was meant to abstain; he was meant to fast. He was meant to say “no” to his own desires, so the he could say “yes” to God. We don’t fast in order to “merit” anything from the Lord, but rather to become like God, imitating Christ in his 40-day struggle in the wilderness. And when Christ was tempted by Satan (as all those who are engaged in Christian fasting will experience), his reliance upon both prayer and the promises of God were enough to sustain him.
….
When the apostle tells the Galatians, “Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would” (Gal. 5:16-17), he shows us yet again that we are “at war” with our own flesh or desires; the “lust of the flesh.” In order to be spiritually renewed as a Christian (and into a true human being, as Christ), one must strive to place the importance of that which is eternal over the temporal desires and passions that tempt us (and which Satan and his minions use to tempt us).

The purpose of fasting is not dieting or carnal in nature, but rather gets to the heart of what it means to be truly human. Our relationship with the Father was distorted in the Garden, and only through true spiritual renewal—such as can be experienced through the ascetic discipline of fasting, coupled with both prayer and almsgiving—can one “grow” to become greater than one’s flesh.

Read the whole article here.

East and West will celebrate Easter on the same date this year, so I know many of you will be beginning your labors just a couple of days later than I, on Ash Wednesday. I pray the Lord will strengthen us all and bring us with joy to Pascha!