My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ God,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE.
The Sunday before Holy and Great Lent is also
the Sunday OF FORGIVENESS.
In the Lord’s Prayer, Matthew 6:12,.
Jesus directs us, "And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors." The Lord explains
to His listeners the following: "For if you forgive
men their trespasses, your Heavenly Father
will forgive you. But IF YOU DO NOT FORGIVE
MEN THEIR TRESPASSES, NEITHER WILL YOUR
FATHER FORGIVE YOUR TRESPASSES" [Matthew 6:14-15].
Our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ is quite clear in His message on forgiveness. We supplicate God to "forgive us…as we are to forgive" others. Christ directs each of us to pray for the Father’s forgiveness of all, and for all of us to forgive each other. Although God’s forgiveness is primary, Jesus clearly teaches that there is a RECIPRICAL RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN DIVINE AND HUMAN FORGIVENESS. We entreat God to be to us as we are to our fellow men. "Debts" refer TO SPIRITUAL DEBTS when we sin, "owe" restitution to our offended neighbor and to the Almighty God. We pray not only to be forgiven but that we not yield to "temptation." Our Lord God tempts no one; temptations are from "evil one," the devil. We read in the General Epistle of James: "Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor dos He Himself tempt anyone" (James 1:13). They are aimed at the soul’s willful yielding TO THE SINFUL PASSIONS of the flesh (Romans 7:5). No one can live without at some time encountering "temptation". But to yield to temptation and commit sin is blameworthy. Therefore, we pray that great temptations, TESTS beyond what we can bear (1 Corinthians 10:13), should not come our way.
This last Sunday of preparation before we enter Holy and Great Lent has two themes: It commemorates Adam’s expulsion from Paradise, and it is alwo the Sunday of Forgiveness. One of the primary images in the Triodion is that OF THE RETURN TO PARADISE. Holy Lent is a time when we weep with Adam and Eve before the closed gate of Eden, REPENTING WITH THEM FOR THE SINS THAT HAVE DEPRIVED US OF OUR FREE COMMUNION WITH GOD. But Holy Lent is also a time WHEN WE ARE PREPARING TO CELEBRATE THE SAVING EVENT OF CHRIST’S DEATH AND RISING, WHICH HAS REOPENED PARADISE TO US ONCE MORE (Luke 23:45). So sorrow for our exile in sin is tempered by hope OF OUR RE-ENTRY INTO PARADISE.
The second theme, that OF FORGIVENESS, is emphasized in the Gospel reading for this Sunday (Matthew 6:14-21) and IN THE SPECIAL CEREMONY OF MUTUAL FORGIVENESS AT THE END OF VESPERS ON SUNDAY EVENING. Before we enter the Lenten Fast, we are reminded that THERE CAN BE NO TRUE FAST, NO GENUINE REPENTANCE, NO RECONCILIATION WITH GOD, UNLESS WE ARE AT THE SAME TIME RECONCILED WITH ONE ANOTHER. A FAST WITHOUT MUTUAL LOVE IS THE FAST OF DEMONS. Saint Theophylactos comments on today’s Gospel reading: "Again He (Jesus) teaches us NOT TO REMEMBER WRONGS. He reminds us of the Father so that we might revere Him, since we are teh children of such a Father, and not act as fierce beasts, REFUSING TO FORGIVE. "But if you forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." God, Who is meek, hates nothing more than cruelty."
"Then Peter came to Him and said, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, BUT UP TO SEVENTY TIMES SEVEN." Saint Theophylactos explains, "This is what Peter is asking: how many times, if one sins and the comes and begs forgiveness repentantly, should I forgive him? He added "sin against me," for if he sins against God, I, a layman, cannot forgive him, but only the priest who has this authority from God. But if he sins against me, then I will forgive him and he will be forgiven, though I am a layman and not a priest. He said, "until seventy times seven," NOT TO LIMIT FORGIVENESS WITHIN A NUMBER, FOR IT WOUD BE ABSURD FOR SOME TO SIT AND COUNT THE OCCASIONS UNTIL THEY NUMBERED 490 (that is, seventy times seven), "However many times he sisn AND REPENTS, FORGIVE HIM."
What Jesus teaches is UNLIMITED FORGIVENESS because God’s forgiveness of us is unlimited. Sin is portrayed as A DEBT to God, a debt originated by neglecting God’s will. Just as He shows love and mercy, we too, much show the same kind of love and of mercy toward our fellow man. It is very clear that because God forgives us, we in return are obliged to grant this gift of forgiveness to others. When each Christian forgives "FROM HIS HEART" (v. 35), TRUE RECONCILIATION AND HEALING COME TO THE Church by God’s grace. "Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged Me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, FROM HIS HEART, does not forgive his brother his trespasses" (Matthew 18:32-35).
Saint Theophylact writes: "The master in his love for mankind takes the savagery issue with the servant, to show that it is not the master, but the savagery and the ingratitude of the servant that has revoked the gift. To what tormentors does he deliver him? To the punitive powers for eternal punishment. For the meaning of "till he should pay all his debt" is this: ‘let him be punished till that he should pay all that was due.’ But he will never be able to pay his debt, and therefore his punishment WILL NEVER END. He did not say, "your Father", but "My Father". For such as these are unworthy to have God as their Father. He wasnt us to forgive from our hearts and not only from our lips. Understand, then, what a great evil is REMEMBRANCE FO WRONGS, since it revokes the gift of God; though God does not repent of His gifts, nevertheless they are revoked."
As Orthodox Christians we also understand the significance of the Mystery (Sacrament) of Repentance/Confession not only during Holy and Great Lent but throughout the year. In the Mystery (Sacrament) of Repentance the spiritual infirmities of a person are treated, impurities of soul are removed, and a Christian, having received forgiveness of sins, again becomes innocent and sanctified, just as he came out of the waters of Baptism. Therefore, the Mystery of Repentance is called a "A SPIRITUAL MEDICINE." The Sacrament of Repentance consists of two basic actions: (1) the CONFESSION OF HIS/HER SINS BEFORE A PRIEST OF THE Church by the person coming to the Mystery, and (2) the PRAYER OF FORGIVING AND REMITTING THEM, PRONOUNCED BY THE PRIEST.
CONFESSION is referred to also as the"FORGOTTEN MEDICINE". Forgotten because many Orthodox Christians negelect it. Confession– that is, pronouncing aloud–is the expression of "INWARD REPENTANCE," its result, its indicator. REPENTANCE is not only AWARENESS of one’s sinfulness or a simple ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF ONESELF AS UNWORHTY; IT IS NOT EVEN CONTRITION or REGRET (although all these aspects should enter into repentance). Rather, IT IS AN ACT OF ONE’S "WILL FOR CORRECTION," a desire and firm intention, A RESOLVE, TO BATTLE AGAINST EVIL INCLINATIONS, AND THIS CONDITION OF SOUL IS UNITED WITH A PETITION FOR GOD’S HELP IN THE BATTLE AGAINST ONE’S EVIL INCLINATIONS. Such a heartfelt and sincere repentance is necessary not only so that the effects of this Sacrament might extend to the "remission of sins," but also so that ther emight enter the opened soul a Grace-giving HEALING, which does not allow the soul again to become immersed in teh filth of sin. (Orthodox Dogmatic Theology)
It is not enough to participate in the solemn service of forgiveness at Vespers on the Sunday of Forgiveness. It should become a frequent practice throughout the year. All the Mysteries (Sacraments) of our Holy Orthodox Church were founded by our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ through which we are spiritually restored and healed. It is through the Sacraments of Our Church that we receive the Grace of God. We must come to understand that they were given to us to use and to be strengthen by them to overcome the evil influences and spiritual illnesses and to protect and save our immortal souls. It is not enough for one to claim to be an Orthodox Christian! It is necessary for an Orthodox Christian to know as much as possible his/her Orthodox Faith and to put it to practice. Our contemporary society is starving spiritually and does not know where to turn to find it, we, Orthodox Christians, however, have been blessed to have an unlimited supply of this spiritual treasure within our Holy Church. However, it is up to the individual Orthodox Christian to seek it, to find it, and make it their own.
HAVE A SOLEMN, UPLIFTING, INSPIRING, AND BLSSED HOLY LENT.
"Glory Be To GOD
– Saint John Chrysostomos
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With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia (Ministry),
The sinner and unworthy servant of God