The Way of Forgiveness

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
The Way of Forgiveness
11th Sunday after Pentecost
8 August, 2010
[Given outside the Archdiocese]
1 Corinthians 9:2-12 ; Matthew 18:23-35


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

The prayer, “Our Father”, which we have just said to the Lord, is directly connected with the Gospel reading earlier today. In its own way, it is the answer to the Apostle Peter’s question : “‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’” Our Saviour says to him : “‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven’” (Matthew 18:21-22).

In this parable about the Kingdom of Heaven, our Saviour speaks about a man who owed his master 10,000 talents. This is such a huge amount of money that it is not possible to think about it. The master asks the slave to pay the 10,000 talents. (In Greek, the word is “slave”. We make it “soft” and “nice” by translating the word as “servant”. However, it is not soft or nice, or even “polite” ; the word used is plainly “slave”.) The master says, in effect : “If you do not pay, then I will sell you and your family and make you pay back in this manner”. The slave falls down at the feet of his master and says : “‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all’”. The master has compassion and forgives the debt without even giving him time to pay it back. Can you imagine someone, such as a banker (or anyone else to whom one owes a very great amount of money) doing something like that ? It is not very common these days, because we are so attached to money.

However, in this case, the master forgives this unthinkably large amount of money to this slave. The Saviour then says to us that this slave was owed money by a fellow slave. The amount of money is 100 denarii (about three and a half months’ worth of wages). He then takes his co-slave by the throat ; he chokes him, and he says : “‘Pay me what you owe!’” This slave actually repeats the very words that the first slave had said to his master : “‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you all’”. The first slave would not be patient, and he puts the man in prison until he should pay the debt. He does the opposite of what his master had done to him. Then his co-slaves complain to the master about this behaviour. This master delivers the first slave to the prison-keepers until he should pay the 10,000 talents. However, he is compassionate and he does not do the same to the family although he could have done so. He holds only the man accountable for his bad behaviour. It seems to me (and this is only my opinion) that the first slave did not have any gratitude at all. He had no real regard for the immensity of his debt, and he had no regard for his master, either. It seems to me that he even considered his master to be weak because he forgave the debt. With ingratitude, he treats the person who owes him only a small amount in a very bad way.

Let us notice what the Lord says at the end of today’s reading, after the master sent the first slave to the prison-keepers. Our Lord says : “‘So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses’”. Our Lord, in His love, wants us to imitate Him in His love. Our Lord forgives you and me our sins, as we ask Him to do. He does this because of compassion and because of love. He expects you and me to be the same towards each other. This is precisely the opposite of the mentality of the societies in which we are living these days, societies which do not understand forgiveness at all. They only understand the terms “pay back” and “punishment”. It is important for us to exercise forgiveness on each other even if it may be difficult, because people around us do not know forgiveness. They need to see the compassion of Christ coming from us to them.

That is precisely how Christians are supposed to be behaving, and how we should be behaving towards each other. If we do not forgive sins against us committed by other people, but instead hold the sin against the other persons, then our anger and bitterness does nothing to the other persons. However, it does eat our hearts. Therefore, if I do not forgive, I am causing acid to eat my heart. So serious is this matter of forgiveness for Christians, that in the “Our Father” (which prayer the Lord, Himself, gave us), He teaches us to ask our Heavenly Father : “‘Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors’” (Matthew 6:12). Thus, we are saying to our Heavenly Father : “Please forgive my sins as much as I forgive people who sin against me”. It is important for us to remember this. It is true that it is a difficult way. However, the Lord Himself says : “‘My yoke is easy and My burden is light’” (Matthew 11:30). He is not leaving us alone to do this work of forgiveness. Because He is love, He is with us, and He is helping us to forgive.

I will give you a hint about how to do this forgiveness. I learned about this from Archimandrite Sophrony and his teacher, Saint Silouan. I, and many people have found that this way makes it possible to forgive. It is a very simple prayer : “Doamne milueste”. Why should we say this particular prayer ? The words “Doamne milueste” are the Romanian translation of the Greek words “Kyrie eleison”. This prayer, “Kyrie eleison”, is not asking God to spare us from his wrath. It is asking Him to be present with us in His forgiving love. I think it is possible to suggest that the prayer can imply asking the Lord to pour out the healing oil of His love upon us. With our broken and hurt hearts, we offer to the Lord ourselves and the person who has hurt us, or upset us or badly treated us. We do not try to tell the Lord what to do because He knows everything. He knows me. He knows the other person. He knows what is necessary. With this prayer, I do not judge or condemn the other person. I offer this other person, together with myself, to the Lord, asking Him to be present in His healing love. When I am doing this, the Lord is healing my heart. When I am doing this, the Lord is taking the poison of anger and resentment and bitterness out of my heart. He enables the possibility of our reconciliation with people who have hurt us. If I am coming towards another person, and my heart is full of anger, then even if the other person has a mind to ask for forgiveness, that person can feel my anger and can become afraid. My anger can even stir up an equal reaction of anger in the other person, and so division is maintained. In this way the work of the devil is accomplished. If my heart has come to peace because I have been praying for the person who has hurt me, and I come towards this person in peace, then the door is open for reconciliation. I cannot make the reconciliation happen by force, but I can make the possibility possible.

I am sharing all this with you because this is simply the way of Christ. If you remember the sermon on the mountain that the Lord gave at the beginning of the Gospel according to Matthew, He is reminding us to forgive and to bless those who hurt us. In fact, what is the Saviour Himself doing when He has His arms voluntarily stretched out on the Holy Cross ? He is asking God the Father to forgive the people who are killing Him (see Luke 23:34). With His arms that are stretched out on the Holy Cross, He is embracing us all who cause Him to suffer on that Cross.

You and I have been baptised into Christ. As we liturgically sing several times a year, in being baptised into Christ, we have put on Christ (see Galatians 3:27). We carry Christ in our hearts. The many people around us who have not found Christ, can find Him in us. Through us, they can find this hope and this forgiveness of Jesus Christ.

Brothers and sisters, let us ask the Mother of God to support us and protect us under her veil, and by her intercessions help us to be like her in following her Son. Let us ask her to help us in our lives to say “Yes” to her Son always, in everything, as she does still, so that under the protection of her veil, together with her, we can all together glorify her Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.