Preparation to forgiveness Sunday
(Gospel of Publican and Pharisee)
Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh
19 February 1989
In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.
Step by step, but so fast that we hardly notice the notion of time we are coming to the beginning of Lent. These weeks are given us as weeks of self-examination, as a time when we must be ready to enter into the fasting time of the Lord Jesus Christ, together with Him to stand forty days in the wilderness, and at the end of it to be able, together with Him, to renounce the temptations which the evil one has offered Him, and is offering us also.
But at the entrance gate of Lent we will face the Sunday of forgiveness. (?) Sunday as a moment of joy, a moment when we are freed by the Lord God and allowed to enter into this mysterious time, in the wilderness. But do we realise that this is like the Red Sea which the Jews had to cross in order to enter into the wilderness that will lead them to the Promised Land? Do we realise that we stand before God’s judgement at that moment? Doesn’t the Lord Jesus Christ say in the Gospel that as we judge we shall be judged? Do we not repeat day after day in the Lord’s Prayer ‘Forgive as I forgive’ thereby saying that I recognise that unless I forgive, I deserve no forgiveness – no forgiveness from God, and no forgiveness from anyone who has (?) against me. This is a moment in which we take our eternal destiny in our hands; if we cannot say to everyone who has anything against us, ‘I forgive Thee freely’, there is no way for us into reconciliation with God. Indeed – more than this to the extent to which we refuse forgiveness, we recognise that we stand condemned, that we have no right to forgive us (?).
On the evening of the Forgiveness Sunday we take a service, the Service of Forgiveness – the beginning of Lent, a door is been open to us – but to each of us? No! Not to each of us! Only on condition that we can enter through this door, that this door is not too narrow for us to enter, loaded with hatred, loaded with resentment, loaded with rejection, loaded with our refusal to follow Christ along this path.
(And) more often (?) than not, ever so often, ever more often I hear people say to me, ‘This service is deeply moving, this service is most beautiful’ – but what a lie at a heart of this service: people come, we all come, we ask God for forgiveness, we ask the Mother of God to forgive us, the Angel Guardian whom He has given us and whom we offend at every moment by being unworthy of God and of ourselves, the Saints whose name we bear, the Saints whom we venerate -we insult them by coming, and expecting forgiveness while we refuse forgiveness to others. And how hypocritical indeed it is when people come, bow before the images of Christ, the icon of the Mother of God, asking their forgiveness, turn to the priests with the same request and then go to all the people of whom they are aware that they have nothing to forgive, and pass by those who have something to forgive. How often this happens! Ask yourselves – how often you have not walked up to the very people who would say, NO – I cannot forgive you, NO – you have offended me too deeply, and you have not redeemed yourself in my eyes, NO – you have not made any reparation, NO I cannot forgive you, and because I cannot forgive you, you close the doors of forgiveness to me…
Forgiveness is the acid test of compassion, of love, of our brother- and sisterhood in Christ. Remember, that unless we forgive, we cannot be forgiven, but remember also, remember (it?) that if we are for anyone the cause why he or she cannot forgive us, the judgement and condemnation are upon us, not upon the person who is unable to forgive because the wounds are too deep, the pains too great, the offence too unbearable, and healing has not been offered – not by God: BY US.
Yes, we always have a dual responsibility; we think of the people who have offended us, and even those we prove unable to forgive; but what about those people whom we have offended? This is our responsibility, we must help them, we must make it possible for them to forgive. At times we feel we are too hurt – and what about God? What about God whom we hurt day in day out in so many ways; to Whom we say, ‘You have lived and died for the sake of this or that person, but I don’t care whether You died for him: I shut the doors of eternal life to this person! You have come into the world to save – I curse, I reject, I shut this door, and You have no power to open it because I say: NO!’
Is that not a terrible thought? And some will say, «Yes, but can I endure the betrayal of all my hopes, can I endure betrayal altogether? Yes; betrayal is the testing power of forgiveness! You remember what Christ said to Judas when he came with a crowd of people to betray Him, to deliver Him unto death? He met him with words, ‘Friend – why hath thou come hither?’ Friend He calls him!. Can we not then face within our power the small betrayals, the small sins of others?
And so, we are now at the beginning of our preparation for this particular Sunday, step after step we must go towards it, and when it comes, we must be ready for it. This is why I speak of it now and, not in three or four weeks time: it is now that we must begin; and where we must begin with ourselves; we must remember the words of Christ, ‘How can you remove the (?) from the eye of your neighbour while a beam is in your own eye?’
Let us ask ourselves first of all, WHOM HAVE I OFFENED? In whom have I created resentment, unbearable pain that will prevent him or her to say, ‘I forgive – go in peace! Father, forgive, they did not know what they were doing!’: this is the first step, not ask ourselves, Who has offended m e, but ‘Whom have I offended’. And there are many ways in which we offend people: not only by acts of unrighteousness, but even by what we imagine to be our righteousness. In the life of Tikhon of Zadonsk there is a case when he rebuked a merchant for the evils he had done, and the merchant, in anger, (?) his face; and Tikhon of Zadonsk knelt down at his feet and said, ‘Brother, forgive me – I have caused you to flare up in anger!’ He was saying nothing but the truth, but he had spoken the truth in such a way that it had become temptation and sin, and h e was the one who was asking for forgiveness…
Let us therefore start with ourselves and ask ourselves, whom have I offended? Who should I heal by my repentance? Before whom should I confess my guilt? Before whom should I kneel, in body and soul?.. And then only, in the weeks to come, make (the moves?) – not only repent, that is tell God that I am sorry, but go to the person and tell in all detail what has happened, what was the wrong, what prompted me to act as I did, who am I who is capable of such violence – and ask for forgiveness. The Lord said, If you come to the temple and remember that someone has something against you – leave your gift, and go, and make your peace with your brother: only then shall the gift be acceptable, only then shall forgiveness be possible on our part. All of us we are in this situation; O, there are (big) offences of which we are aware; but who of us can say, thinking of all those people with whom he has lived in the course of his life, with whom he is now living, who are surrounding him – who can say that, I love him to the point of saying, I am prepared to forgive your betrayal, I am prepared to forgive the worst you have done, because I am prepared in an act of sacrificial, crucified love to take you in my arms as the lost sheep, and bring you to the (fore?) , I am prepared, if necessary, to take you upon my shoulder as Christ took His cross, bring it to Calvary, be nailed upon it unto salvation of others; and when I am been nailed, while I am dying upon it, with the pain, and agony, and anguish unrelieved, say to God, ‘Forgive – because I have forgiven!’ Amen.
O Lord, Thou didst reproach the Pharisee when he justified himself, boasting of his deeds; and justified the Publican when he approached humbly, seeking forgiveness with sighs; for Thou dost not draw near to arrogant thoughts, nor turn away contrite hearts. Wherefore, we also kneel before Thee meekly, O Thou Who didst suffer for our sakes. Grant us forgiveness and the Great Mercy.
Doxasticon from Orthros, Tone 8
When the Pharisee went down with empty glory, and the publican bowed himself in repentance, they came to Thee alone, O Master. But the one through boasting lost his reward, and the other by his silence deserved gifts. Wherefore, by those sighs confirm me, O Christ God, since Thou art the Lover of mankind.
from the Praises at Orthros, Tone 1