Aspects of Forgiveness

A few thoughts…

On this Forgiveness Sunday, we focus on the key to evincing love toward others and ourselves: forgiveness.

Without it, one remains in a dark morass of bitterness, vengeance, and loathing. This state is not one of love, peace, or God.

With it, we sin less, creating within ourselves a state in which we can be used by God in this great war between good and evil in which we find ourselves.

We must carefully examine and guard our hearts of all hatred, as we are warned, “Keep thy heart with all diligence; For out of it are the issues of life.” (Proverbs 4:23, KJV).

We are not to condemn, and yet we, of course, fail. Our weakness due to hurts, whether correctly or incorrectly perceived, leads us to lash out – sometimes purposefully and at other times unknowingly. We may think sinful thoughts of vengeance against another, and at times even let it lead us to also sin in direct behavior toward them. All evil begins with hatred, lack of forgiveness. It is here that I find Orthodoxy shines in helping us to overcome the condemnation of others and ourselves (a prerequisite to fully forgiving others, as well). For in our prayers, we are repeatedly reminded that we ask God for forgiveness of those sins we knowingly and unknowingly have committed – this is humility, acknowledging our shortcomings in perception before Him.

A Film Recommendation

As I reflect on forgiveness, I highly recommend an outstanding Russian film that brings forgiveness in all aspects to the fore.

It is a 1999 production. Forgiveness of others, forgiveness of self, and the endeavoring to love those who hate – all powerfully examined in this story – a piece of tragic history few Americans, including Orthodox in the USA, are aware of.

You may view it here: The Priest (Russian movie with English subtitles)

The film is spiritually powerful. Historically accurate, it is the story of an Orthodox priest sent to the Russian Pskov Orthodox mission after the region (then Latvia) had been occupied by the Nazis.

No matter our circumstances, we are called to love all, and in this film, we see the struggle this brings to individuals as they suffer. (The actual priest on whom Alexander Seguin’s novel “Pop” and this film are based did not end up being sent to the Soviet prison, but he and his family escaped forced repatriation to the Soviet Union. He later moved to the United States and later transferred to the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad.)

As those who view it will find, this film, relevant to our spiritual understanding as well as historical, is particularly apropos during this Lenten time into Paschaltide.

In Orthodoxy

As an Orthodox Christian (ROCOR), this film also brought to mind communications I have received from people condemning our Patriarch, Church (and myself as a member). Do you really believe you are sinless and steadfastly resistant to sin under such horrific circumstances as endured by this Church as to arrogantly condemn those of the Russian Orthodox Church (including the Moscow Patriarchate) then and now?

Sadly, the forgiveness we are to evince is apparently lacking in some and may explain why they can be so vociferously condemnatory of people and matters they know little or nothing of. To all such, I would remind them first and foremost – who are you to look at others when we are commanded to first look at ourselves? You, who upon even a slight conversation, reveal utter ignorance of the suffering the Russian people and the Orthodox faithful suffered because of the Bolshevik Communists, the Nazis, and then the chaos of the collapse of the Soviet Union, which the West hurriedly began exploiting. You, who are likewise woefully ignorant of the suffering of Orthodox Christians under the persecution of the Ukrainian regime today and for the past ten years. And, yet, despite all evidence of the holiness of Russian Orthodoxy, there persists, particularly among some residing in the collective West, a self-righteous judgment against it.

The Russian Orthodox Church endured, saving the Church and the nation, not only from Communism but also from the Yeltsin years when the West began its internal subversion of the country and its society. The Orthodox in Russia exhibited long suffering faith, resulting in the beautiful faith-based nation Russia has become.

I am grateful for the reunification of ROCOR with the Moscow Patriarchate – because it is the Russian Orthodox Church that remains faithful to the teachings of Christ and his apostles. Only in Russian Orthodoxy have I found the consistency of the practice of Christ’s teachings and its resulting holiness I sought as evinced in its parishes, music, and people.  And, this may be, I speculate, due to the decades of suffering my fellow believers endured to keep it alive against all tyranny. Because of them, the Church lived. And it will live and thrive always, even as the faithful are still persecuted at this time by collective Western governments (foremost the USA) and condemned by others.

Let us embark on our Lenten fast, pondering and meditating upon what this gift of forgiveness given us requires of us as we pattern our lives in obedience to His will – not ours. Yes, we are rightly discerning of that which is evil in our world, and only amongst the brethren do we lovingly bring dialogue for correction and reunification – not condemnation, for that is not our place. Among the brethren, forgiveness can bring us closer to one another, just as our repentance and asking for forgiveness from God bring us closer to Him.

In the World

We are to love even in times that require separation or action to protect the innocent from those who consciously choose evil. We can forgive, that is – not hate, even as we stand up to shield the innocent from harm. To forgive does not translate into forgetting, condoning, or allowing evil to continue to be committed against the innocent. It simply means we will not hate – we will not sin by doing evil against the one who has wronged us.

To reconcile with God requires our repentance – for another to reconcile with us (to whatever degree we choose – even if only letting them know we do not hate them) requires their repentance. At any time, we may choose to express to God our wish that their sin against us not be held against them. This is our prerogative, as children of God, to choose such mercy or not. We may, as well, call to God to judge them. We recognize this in the Divine Liturgy of John Chrysostom, which references Psalm 5:10, KJV: “Destroy thou them, O God; let them fall by their own counsels; cast them out in the multitude of their transgressions; for they have rebelled against thee.”

The individual who has sinned against us has also sinned against God – that is between them and God. We must, simply, not hate – not respond with resentment and anger-based reactions.

For those who love God and His Church, we evince forgiveness even to those who hate us. As we each encounter our souls in the light of God’s forgiveness, so too must we view all others – past and present – as those who have said no to God’s will as we have done throughout our lives. Whether they repent before God is not the determinant of whether we love them in their lost state.

At all times, our focus must be on our transgressions, asking for God’s forgiveness of that which we have done, in knowledge or ignorance, as we humbly recognize we may sin at times without being conscious of the evil we have done.

Sometimes we are quickly aware of the sinful thought or deed we have committed against another and against God, sometimes it may be much later before we realize we have sinned against another and against God. Sometimes, years may have passed, and we will be unable to ask that person directly. Nevertheless, it is here that we must accept God’s forgiveness – accept it so that we are not continually plagued with guilt, which will keep us from fully loving others. To love others requires our full acceptance of God’s love – His forgiveness for all we have done that we repent of.

As we ask of those we know, forgiveness for anything we may have done that offended or hurt them, knowingly or unknowingly, in thought-word-or deed, so let us forgive ourselves as God has forgiven us. The remembrance of our own sin and our lamenting thereof serves to keep us in humility and compassion for others. However, stifling shame and condemnation of oneself in one who has accepted God’s forgiveness and confessed, comes from the Evil One. Receive your redemption so that you may then be a channel of God’s love, serving others. If you can grasp that God forgives you as you forgive others, then, too, you must accept His forgiveness of you – to do otherwise is to refuse God’s love. As a Christian, once you recognize a sin and repent before God, it is no more.

Forgiveness is essential. It is pure love of God – from Him to us – from us of ourselves—and from us to all.

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