In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Today’s Gospel from St Matthew concerns our need to forgive one another. Without forgiveness on our part, God cannot forgive us. Why?
In English the word forgive is connected with the word give. It is the same in many other languages. In French to forgive is pardonner, to give is donner. In German to forgive is vergeben, to give is geben. In other words, forgiving and giving are connected. Indeed to forgive someone is actually to give of ourselves. Not to give money or a present, but to give of ourselves. To forgive is to sacrifice part of ourselves for someone else.
Where there is no forgiveness, there the heart has set itself against self-sacrifice, against giving of itself. Where there is no forgiveness, there is hardness of heart, self-love and pride, enmity and bitterness, rancour and hatred, stony-heartedness, the refusal of the grace of God.
Now the very aim of our Faith, the reason for its existence, is precisely that, the cleansing of the heart from all such stony-heartedness, from all such rancour and refusal of God’s grace. In other words, it could be said that the aim of our Faith is to obtain a forgiving heart. And here we enter into the very essence of our Orthodox Christian Faith.
For why did God allow His own Son to become man, and suffer, and of His own will go up onto the Cross? Why did the Father see His Only-born Son sacrificed?
It was all an act of forgiveness. The forgiveness of the sins of humanity, and the showing of the way to freedom from those sins. This is why, in the Prayer that the Lord gave us, we pray: ‘Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those that trespass against us’. Although God forgives us, we may be unable to accept His forgiveness, if first our heart is not ready, in a fit state to accept God’s forgiveness, if first we have not forgiven others, if first we have not rid ourselves from our stony-heartedness.
It has been said that forgiveness is the essence of our Christian Faith.
For instance, forgiveness contrasts with the pharisaic, vendetta spirit of the Old Testament: ‘An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’, which is the ideology of the Jewish State to this day.
Forgiveness contrasts with the Muslim religion, which speaks of fanatical holy war, death for those who renounce Islam and become Christian.
It contrasts with the fanaticism of those pagan religions which make human sacrifice.
It contrasts with modern paganism which is always seeking reasons for vendettas, to sue in court, to seek ‘damages’.
Of course there have been, and are, so-called Christians who have also fallen away from Christ’s Gospel Truth and engaged in the same sort of ideology, launching ‘Crusades’ , ‘Inquisitions’, ‘holy wars’, burnings at the stake and massacres – all in the Name of Christ the Good Shepherd. But we do not take such people seriously as Christians, for we know that they are foolish and merely besmirch the All-Honourable Name of Christ. We know that they are not Orthodox Christians. They merely take the Name of Christ and His Church in order to try and justify their own cruel stony-heartedness and personal passions. They do not have the Holy Spirit, for the Holy Spirit is the spirit of forgiveness.
For where there is no forgiveness, there there is no Holy Spirit. Where there is no Holy Spirit, there there is no forgiveness. Such is the spiritual law.
Christ gave us the ultimate example of forgiveness. He, All-Innocent, hung on the Cross to forgive us. We too have to accept a little crucifixion of ourselves in order to forgive others. And if we find that difficult, let us remember that Christ’s Crucifixion was followed by His Resurrection. And so our little self-crucifixion, our forgiving of others, will be followed by our little resurrection – our being forgiven by God. And so, just as the rain is followed by the sun, so sorrow is followed by joy.
God, forgive us!