Twenty years ago, when we entered the Orthodox Christian Church, our children ranged in age from 9 to 16 years of age. One of the first services we experienced was the service of forgiveness which begins Great Lent in the Orthodox calendar. This is a service where every person in the congregation prostrates his or herself before every other person in the congregation while asking the other to ‘Forgive me’. There were many strangers at our first Forgiveness Sunday most with whom I had never interacted and so had no obvious reason to forgive them or them me, but it was also the first time I ever made a concerted effort to ask my husband and my children for forgiveness. That first Forgiveness Sunday began a long and continuing process of healing relationships within our family. Not just within the Orthodox parts but within our extended family as well.
Every year I renew my commitment to forgive and to ask for forgiveness. This makes it easier throughout the year to forgive and to ask for forgiveness whenever a problem arises. By putting my ego in check, I found relationships are easier to maintain because potentially hurtful situations can be dealt with quickly and not allowed to fester.
Every Christian repeats the Lord’s Prayer. There is one line in particular which should give us pause; ‘forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who have trespassed against us’. This definitely implies that God’s forgiveness is only available to us as long as we forgive others.
Now don’t get me wrong. God forgiveness is NOT conditional, it is freely available to all but I have to want it, to take advantage of it and when I do not forgive someone else, then I am making myself unavailable to receive God’s forgiveness towards me.
This is why I make a concerted effort to attend the Sunday service of Forgiveness Vespers. I need to go. Maybe I feel like I’m going through the motions and just saying the words to start with, but the physical act of prostrating and speaking forgiveness begins to stir something deep within my soul. It changes me.
I am dismayed when I hear about relational conflicts within the church, conflicts which could be resolved if both parties asked forgiveness and began to talk to each other with humility. When this doesn’t happen, the whole church suffers.
In Matthew 5:22-24, Jesus teaches, “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.”
The implication here is the offering is worthless if the offer-er is angry with someone. In other words, everything I do for the church, for God, for other people is nothing if I am holding a grudge against someone, if I have refused to forgive them and ask for their forgiveness in return. That is a pretty harsh reality to face.
My life needs to be one of forgiveness. There is no room in my life for grudges or bitterness, especially at my age. It is hard to remember this in a world whose entertainment glorifies revenge and violence and whose news is reporting such every day.
When I can forgive and ask forgiveness of those around me, and they can do the same for me, then I begin to live as God intended for me to live. Christ came to reconcile us to Himself through His love and His forgiveness. What reasons could I possibly have to refuse to reconcile with those around me?
Forgiveness is available for everyone. It costs nothing except pride. I need to forgive daily. If I don’t, then I can not claim to love Christ. The image of Christ is in everyone and forgiveness is the practice of love.