The Foundation of Forgiveness

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
The Foundation of Forgiveness
Forgiveness Sunday
9 March, 2008
Romans 13:11-14:4 ; Matthew 6:14-21

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

Today, we see the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise. Even though this theme was not explicitly in the readings today, it has certainly been in the hymnography yesterday and this morning. The expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise is connected with their being distracted from paying complete and whole attention to their relationship of love between them and their Creator. Instead, they listened to a distracting voice suggesting that they might have some advantages if they did, in fact, eat the fruit of this tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The Tempter was suggesting to them that they would somehow gain superior knowledge ; they would become like God, Himself. You see what sort of terrible suggestions he was sowing. He carefully poisoned them, and they listened. They swallowed the poison. Knowledge, knowledge of good and evil is all right in its place when you are in a position where you know what to do with it, I suppose. It is possible that the Lord would have given them the blessing to take the fruit of this tree in due course. However, they were too immature at this time to touch this tree and live. We see from the story of the Fall exactly what happened.

Knowledge is still very much our downfall in our day. We are swimming in knowledge ; in fact, we are drowning in knowledge in our day. We know so many details about so many things ; and, with our “super-duper” technology, we have access to more information than we can ever digest. However, what understanding do we have of this knowledge ? Knowledge is just facts, one might say. Knowledge is all sorts of information. However, information that is not somehow processed, focussed, directed and meaningful, is merely a bunch of noise. All these facts are very noisy, indeed. Our lives are just overloaded with facts : interesting tidbits of information that we keep getting all the time. They come in magazines ; they come by way of the television and the radio ; they come as computer-spam – all sorts of “lovely”, interesting, quaint pieces of information. Do I really need to know all these things ? No, I do not, not really. When I need to know something for a purpose (not just because I am curious, but for the good of all of us), then I can find out what I need to know.

Adam and Eve fell from simple curiosity and distraction. This curiosity and distraction turned their hearts from the Lord, closed a door to the Lord, turned them in on themselves. What was their first reaction after they ate the fruit ? Immediately they became afraid. They had not ever in their lives until then known fear. Where does fear come from ? It comes from Big Red down below. This is his favourite weapon with you and with me. Fear brings confusion. If we are suffering in our lives from fear and confusion, then we are surely at the mercy of Big Red down below. This means that he is very much at work, because fear, confusion, division, turmoil – all these things — are characteristic of his behaviour, his work. When we submit to it all, it is very much to his satisfaction.

It is important for us to remember these lessons. Adam and Eve were created, and all of us have been created for communion in love with our Creator, with the Lord. The Lord has patience. Indeed, He is Patience. He is bent over backwards, one could say, waiting for us to wake up, waiting for us to listen to Him, waiting for us to co-operate with Him. In the times and the moments when we do, in fact, co-operate with Him, wonders do occur. The stopping of tidal waves and forest fires by Saint Herman is a simple example of this. It is not only Saint Herman who is an example of this. There are many saints in the course of human history who have lived in co-operation with the Lord. Through their prayers, through their simple, obedient boldness, they have embraced the simple love of Adam and Eve, in fact. It is a love in harmony with the Lord that saves lives, and saves and restores creation.

People often say that the world is in a mess. No-one can deny that we are in a mess. Some people say that half a dozen to a dozen real praying believers in the whole world at any one time are responsible for keeping everything from falling apart, and I can probably accept that. I do not think that these intercessors are all alone, because I know that many other people are praying, too. These particular other persons are also hidden from us. These particular intercessors throughout the world, who are so in love with the Lord and who are so obedient to Him, are, through their prayers, helping us to survive. Together with the Lord, wonderful things still do occur. When we are living in harmony with the Lord, weather can be moderated ; earthquakes can be mitigated ; wars can even be stopped. We have to learn again how properly to pray in harmony, in love with the Lord.

The very first thing that our Lord says to us in the Gospel today is that it is important for us to forgive those against whom we have something negative. It is crucial that we forgive anyone who hurts us. It is crucial that we forgive anyone or everyone about everything, because our Lord says : “If you do not forgive, neither will your Father in Heaven forgive you your trespasses” (Mark 11:26). This is what He says to us. It is really serious. It is not merely a statement of principle. It is a statement of fact directed to each of us personally. The foundation of our Christian life is completely rooted in this forgiveness. It is crucially important for you and for me to be paying attention to our lives every day, listening to our hearts every day to see whether there is someone I have not forgiven. Non-forgiveness continues to sow poison in my heart : it continues to paralyse my life. Non-forgiveness continues to hurt other people, too, because it clouds my judgement. Non-forgiveness clouds my reactions to other people when they are inter-relating with me. Non-forgiveness poisons everything. Even if there is only one person or one situation in my life that remains unforgiven, it still makes everything cloudy and messy. It is really important that even though we may do nothing else great in our lives, we, in harmony with the Lord, must find the way to forgive everyone everything in our lives. When we do, in the Lord, forgive everyone everything, finally we become free. We become truly free. We become free to be our real selves. We find our real selves in a loving relationship with the Lord. We exercise this real self in loving relationships with human beings and with creation, in healthy, loving relationships that are full of selfless love.

Therefore, needless to say, we have to forgive. How do we do this ? Saint Silouan of Mount Athos is a person of the previous century who (directly or indirectly) has told us how to do this simply. He tells us that we can come to forgiving by saying this simple prayer : “Lord have mercy”. We say it over and over and over again for any person or anything or any situation that requires forgiveness. As Archimandrite Sophrony says, when we are saying : “Lord have mercy”, we are actually making a statement which, all by itself, summarises the Gospel. We are confessing that the Lord is the Lord, and we are asking Him to have mercy on me, and on the person or the situation, everyone, everything, whoever. When we are saying : “have mercy”, we are not saying to Him : “Spare us from Your wrath” (because that is what we usually think that this means in English). It does not mean that. Even in old, historical English it should not mean that. The word “mercy” comes from the Latin word “misericordia”, whose meaning is more like “compassion”. The French language still has this word “miséricorde”. Other languages have this understanding of the Lord’s love embedded in the word that they are using. For example, in Greek they say : “Kyrie eleison”. In this word “eleison” in Greek (and in Coptic, because they use the same word, too), it can be understood that they are, as it were, asking the Lord to pour oil, the oil of His love on us, on the other persons, on the situations. The root word for “oil” is involved in the word “eleison”. I have also come to understand that we can also find the same sort of concept in the Slavonic “pomilui” or in the Romanian “milueste”. There is a sense of the Lord’s compassion in this word, and that sense is what we English-speaking people need to recover. We English-speaking people need to recover a true comprehension and understanding of what our words really mean ; and we have to use our words in the right way. This is part of the process of baptising of our language. The Romanian language began to be baptised almost 2,000 years ago, and Slavonic as well, and Greek even more.

We have to let the Lord baptise our language, too. This will show forth very much in our proper using of this word “mercy”. If we want to ask God to spare us, we can say : “Spare us”. When we ask Him to have mercy, we have to mean that we are asking the Lord to pour the oil of His love on me and on the other person. Saint Silouan said (and so did Archimandrite Sophrony) that when we are doing this, we are capable of making no judgement whatsoever about the situation – we condemn not the other person, and we do not say bad things about ourselves. We only acknowledge that we are in need of the Lord’s love, compassion and His healing. (By the way, even though Archimandrite Sophrony is not yet officially a saint, he should be.) When we are saying : “Lord have mercy”, we are asking that He do exactly that : be His loving, healing Self to us all. Saint Silouan, and Archimandrite Sophrony say that when this prayer passes through us to the other person, it passes through our heart, and opens our heart to this mercy from the Lord. It enables the other person to have some possibility of accepting the same mercy. Ultimately, it is always up to the other person freely to accept or to reject this mercy. The Lord does not force Himself, but this prayer enables the possibility.

Moreover, on top of all that, people are finding over and over again that when they are saying this prayer in this way, even though there may not be such a big change in the other person or the situation (because sometimes you cannot change the situation), the poison from that situation is removed from the heart. The Lord takes the poison out of the situation in the past that is so painful. He also takes away the poison of the memory of the wrongdoing from another person. The more we say this prayer, the more He extracts the poison. Through this prayer, the pain is dissipated, along with the death sown in our hearts by the anger and the bitterness that we may sometimes feel towards other people. Finally, it is taken away altogether, so that there is no remaining poison. I may remember the event, but it does not any longer poison me. I may remember the wrong, but it does not any longer poison me. Instead, I feel sorry for the person who wronged me. That is the direction. When we come to the point of remembering a situation or a person or an event or whatever, and it no longer reflexively stirs up anger, no longer stirs up disturbance or depression or darkness or whatever else, then we will know that we have actually, with God’s mercy, been able to forgive. Because we have co-operated with the Lord and listened to Him, He has healed our heart, and healed our memory.

Sometimes, when something is particularly painful and particularly stubborn in our lives, the pain does not easily or quickly go away. It is important for us to offer this pain and suffering repeatedly to the Lord. It is important to supplement our supplication with taking holy water, and anointing with oil, through which the Lord does convey His healing love to our souls and bodies. The Lord gives us the tangible reassurances and sacraments because He does love us. It is not His will that we should be stumbling about, sick, and crippled all our lives. He wants us to be healthy in every way.

Let us ask the Lord to give us anew the Grace, and the outpouring of His love today, so that we will be able to take courage, and apply this basic, little prayer that He has given us : “Kyrie eleison ; Lord, have mercy ; Doamne milueste ; Seigneur, sois miséricordieux”. In saying this simple prayer, let us let the Lord heal our hearts, and keep our hearts always healed, whole, and in clear, unblocked, loving communion with Him. In this open communion with Him, being co-workers with Him in everything, may we be able to glorify Him in all that we do and say in our lives, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.