Will we accept the Lord’s Forgiveness ?

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Will we accept the Lord’s Forgiveness ?
(Memory of Saint Mary of Egypt)
5th Sunday in Great Lent
13 April, 2008
Hebrews 9:11-14 ; Mark 10:32-45

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

Today, we are celebrating the memory of Saint Mary of Egypt, the most important example of repentance for us all (as far as I can see, and as far as I can understand). In her Life and in the hymns, we heard what sort of a life she had lived before the time came for her repentance. She, in fact, was living a very, very twisted and ruined life, and she took people into ruin with her. Yet, when the Lord gave her a clear sign that she could still be loved, she repented. Because of the way she turned about her life (she became very holy, as we find out at the end), she is really an important sign for us. I have encountered many people in the course of my days who have thought that they were horrible sinners. Their lives were so fallen, broken, twisted, corrupt and otherwise ruined, that they considered themselves to be beyond God’s ability to forgive. How many times I have heard people say : “I have been so bad that God cannot forgive me”. However, the fact is that there is no-one so bad that God cannot or will not forgive. The effectiveness of the forgiveness is actually on our side. “Will we let Him forgive ?” This is the main question.

Saint Mary of Egypt was great in repentance, but what about the repentance of the apostles ? In another week and a bit, we are going to be walking along with the apostles and our Saviour on the way to His Passion (which includes all the Events of that week). How did the apostles survive that test of walking with our Saviour on the way to His Passion ? According to our standards, we would likely say that they failed badly. Why do I say that ? Well, they kept falling asleep ; then they were afraid ; then they ran away ; and then the Apostle Peter, himself, denied three times that he even knew Jesus Christ. When it comes to this denial, it is nothing trivial, because this is betrayal. Betrayal is even more serious than what Saint Mary of Egypt did, one could say ; and yet, the Apostle Peter and the other apostles repented with tears. They were sorry that they were so weak and so overcome with fear, and they returned to our Lord. They begged forgiveness (which they certainly received, or we would not be standing here today).

The Lord is ready to forgive, as long as the person is ready to let the Lord heal. This is what has to happen. We have to be able to accept the love of the Lord working in us. If we let the love of the Lord work in us, He will overcome all the darkness, the brokenness, the distraction, the betrayal, and whatever else we have been up to in the course of our lives. He will forgive it and He will heal it over a period of time. For most of us, this healing does not happen in thirty seconds. Occasionally it does, but not so often, because most of us would misunderstand, and we would too readily perceive such quick forgiveness as being easy. Then we would go around doing whatever we like, thinking that God would automatically forgive. We would try to take advantage of that, as we are so well known to do. We are not the most reliable creatures of the Lord. Yet, He created us in the way that He created us, and our falling away from that perfection is as it is. Nevertheless, our Saviour is waiting for us always with His hand and His heart outstretched and open towards us, waiting for us to let Him embrace us. He is waiting for us to embrace Him back, and to allow Him to give us eternal life and healing, so that, in the context of His love, we may become our real selves.

There are so many things that I could say about everything that we have heard today ; but I think the most important thing for us to remember is the example of our Saviour, Himself, and the example of the life of Saint Mary, and also the lives of the apostles. Our Saviour says : “'The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve'”. This was in answer to the question about sitting beside Him in the Kingdom in glory. This is the Christian way, and this is the example we all have to learn to follow. The way of the world is absolutely the opposite. We have to be an example, following the example of Christ. He came into the world, not to be served, but to serve.

Christians, historically, everywhere, always, moved by the love of Jesus Christ, living in imitation of Him, try to live in this manner of service. In His love, the imitation becomes almost an instinct which is never selfish. How can I help someone else ? How can I look after someone else ? How can I feed someone else (especially, in the Orthodox context) ? How can I give generous and unstinting hospitality to someone else ? How can I support someone else ? How can I, like Christ, be a servant for someone else ? How can I be the Lord’s hand stretched out and active ? How can I be a hand for Him or a foot for Him ? (I am thinking more or less of the walking part, not the other things that feet can sometimes do.)

Our Saviour is the example to us of self-emptying love. It is really important for us to remember this as we are coming to these most solemn days of the year. We are about to complete the days of Great Lent (which ends on Friday). Then begins Holy Week. Let us open our hearts to the Lord during these most solemn days. Let us walk with our Lord and with the apostles. In our hearts, let us walk with our Saviour and with the apostles through every step of the Passion. With our hearts soft with His love and open with His love, let us ask the Lord to renew His love in us, so that we will be able to live our lives faithfully for Him, in Him, with Him, glorifying Him in love in everything, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.