On the 11 Sunday of Mathew 18:23-35
with Elder Sofian
Beloved brothers in Christ,
Today’s Gospel begins with the exhortation of forgiving those who wrong us, as we find in the (prayer) “Our Father”. There are other places in the Holy Scripture where our sweet Jesus insists on forgiveness and a state of peace among us. For example when our Savior said: “When thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught a complaint against thee, leave thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother – for neither thy gift nor thy prayer will be received. ” (cf. Mat 5:23-24)
Today we learned a powerful lesson about a rich and great man – God Himself – who loaned ten thousand talents to his servant, but seeing that he cannot pay, He forgave all his debt.
But what happened then? The man that was forgiven meets his debtor who owed him a very small amount – one hundred denarii – but his debtor been poor, had no means to return them.
So he that was just forgiven seized his servant by the throat demanding him to pay without delay! What a great contrast between his master goodness and his parsimony, because a hundred denarii was insignificant.
But when his fellow servants saw this they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place, and then his master summoned and delivered him to the jailors, till he should pay all his debt (cf. Mat 18:23-35).
In this parable Jesus tells us what will await us if we do not forgive those who wrong us in any way. It is the same concept that our Savior emphasizes unceasingly throughout his earthly life: if we do not forgive, we are not been forgiven. […]
We often carry ourselves towards others as the great debtor of this parable. Although much is forgiven of us, we forgive very little or nothing. But instead, we ask with boldness that we may always be forgiven by God as if our Lord will not sense our hypocrisy and wickedness. And for that, we were asked a very small thing: “If you forgive man their sins, God will forgive yours.”
Our Lord urges us to overcome our pride by forgiving our neighbor and for this small effort we too, can gain eternity, as He said: “The extent by which you measure others, it will be measured to you”; “Judge not, lest you’ll be judged”; ” Forgive and you will be forgiven” – these are small requests, Christian brothers! If only we can find within us the courage of humility, kindness and meekness of heart so that we can truly forgive … That’s why this parable is given to us, to strive for a life of prayer, almsgiving and fasting, as they all work together for our spiritual ascent.
But why are we ought to forgive? First, if you do not forgive, you make your lives a living hell. The Holy Fathers tell us that: “forgiveness is the eldest daughter of love”. He that cannot forgive cannot love. So the man that cannot love others, can neither love God. And to love Him, we must first be reconciled with our neighbors.
We ought to forgive so we may live in good standing with all and with God. We cannot live in isolation, we need each other – as family members need each other – and those in a factory or in offices need to communicate with each other. […]
And we are been told: “Let not the sun retire (go down) upon your wrath,” for if many days pass without making up, evil and hatred will grow within us. And if it is a group of people, the hatred it’s expressed as a terrible silence, a silence that seethes anger and malice. Arguments, insults, threats, even beating and murder! Such life is awful – a life of hell. We bring hell to us, we call the evil in our lives through our inability to forgive.
There are families where spouses do not speak to each other for months, until the marriage breaks in divorce. There are brothers, relatives or friends who because of some differences fell and, instead of making up immediately, remained silent and the anger deepened and it’s now old and more difficult to reconcile.
How can such man full of hatred pray? Who is he addressing to? Is he praying to God? When God asked him: “Forgive, so I may forgive you.”
There are even worse cases. After going against each other, they pray to God to punish their enemy severely, in spite of what God commanded us – to forgive, and he asks God to make his enemy into dust or to “poor His thunder upon him”… an expression of profound evil. Instead of thinking that he can also be wrong and to make an effort to reconcile his own soul, he begins to curse and stirs even more hatred.
There are neighbors that after fighting with each other, when they pass by they look the opposite direction not to see each other. I ask such people – who are usually Christians and seek God – how can they pray and how can they ask forgiveness from God if they cannot forgive others?
Humanly speaking, it is easier to slander and take revenge, but this proves that you are overcome by weakness and the lowest instincts.
But to control oneself and to forgive show greatness and a sign that the Spirit is God – the spirit of peace – rests within you. He that can control himself and forgets insults cuts off from the root any trace of hatred, because the forgiven feels humbled and do not dare to respond with evil.
There are instances where two men, equally guilty: one humbles himself and asked forgiveness but the other does not want to hear. What are we to do then? Instead of me answering, I will give you a parable from the Paterikon:
“A certain brother had something against another brother. And, understanding this, he went to his brother wanting to humble himself, apologize and be reconciled with him. Knocking at his brother door, the man didn’t receive him. Seeing this, he was disgusted. And going to his elder, he wept that his brother who he wanted to ask forgiveness and be reconciled, did not receive him, nor he opened the door for him.
But the elder said “Search my child and take heed that you may have a thought in your heart telling you that – you are not guilty nor that you caused your brother any harm – and may tell you that he is the guilty one! Thus you feel you have no fault in this and you blame him. Wherefore God does not give encouragement to your brother to open his door to receive you, because it is not with true repentance you search him, but overcome by pride. So go and put in your heart that you’re also wrong, and only as such go to meet him. And God will grant him humility and strength to be reconciled with you “(…). By hearing this – the brother was humbled and, following his staret advise went again to his brother and pleaded for forgiveness. Knocking at his door, the brother heard and opened. Then he humbly bowed to him saying: “Forgive me, brother, that I disgusted you!” And they embraced each other with great joy. “
The (holy) fathers instruct us: when you want to apologize and the other does not receive it, consider whether you have offended him in any way. Take heed at your heart and humble yourself and only thus go to him.
Lets not blame our enemies, and only blame ourselves. Because if we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that we too have done some harm and they remember it. First humble thyself before God and then go to your brother; humble yourself from the heart – and God will change the disposition of your brother and reconciliation will take place.
My beloved brothers, God is ever present in man’s lives. Yet we do not sense the presence of God in every soul, but He is present in us all, He directs our emotions to submit in love and peace to each other, because God is love – in His omnipotence, He directs us to love and reconciliation. And God can change the disposition of others, if you humble thyself before Him from the heart, but if you refuse to reconcile, then God will abandon you.
In this sense we have another story in the Paterikon:
“During the early persecution, when Christians were tormented and murdered for their faith in Christ, they seized two brothers/monks and threw them in prison until the next day. The following day, they were taken out to be martyred. But these two brothers had enmity against each other.
While laying in prison beaten and tormented, one humbled thyself to the other and said: “Brother, tomorrow we will be brought before their court where they will torment and murder us and we will go to the Lord. Because of this, the hatred and jealousy that was and is still among us, it is proper to give up, be reconciled, and forgive one another before we die, that in a clean state, we may embrace death for the love of Christ, so we may be worthy of the crown of martyrdom.
And saying this he bowed down before his brother saying:” Forgive me brother, and you too may be forgiven by me and by God! But the other, overcome by jealousy, refused to forgive him. The next day in the morning they were taken out to be slandered. He, who did not want to reconcile and forgive his brother, seeing that was terrified and denied Christ, but the other brother, got courage in the Lord and received martyrdom.
When the one who denied Christ was asked: “Why haven’t you deny Christ yesterday, so you had not been tormented?” He answered: “I left my Lord, when I didn’t reconciled with my brother, then His grace and help also left me and been abandoned by Christ, I denied Him “.
Thus, if we cannot forgive our brother, His grace departs from us, and we give into all sorts of temptations, then who will protect us when God will turn His face from us…
In such cases, we ought to examine our conscience to see whether we carry some part of the blame, then we must overcome our pride and humble ourselves as the brother of this story.
And if the other does not respond nor he wants to forgive us, we must strive to forgive him from the heart and pray for him, that Christ may soften his heart and help us to truly forgive.
So my advise to you regarding these people, is to strive not to speak evil of them [….]
It’s better to pray for them, that God may enlighten and help them understand that they are wrong.
And by carrying ourselves with gentleness, humility and genuine kindness, pure at heart from any human haughtiness and evil, peace will rest within us – that peace which only God can give, that inner peace which Jesus spoke of: “My peace I give to you, not as the world gives you.” – the Peace of Christ … And we will be granted a true forgiveness from God when we say: “Forgive us as we forgive.” […]
“Forgiveness, the beginning of Love”
by Hieromonk Savatie
– Father, although I want to forgive, I often remember what others had done to me!?…
– It is a struggle! We cannot forgive from the beginning. But if we struggle in this, God will send His grace to help us. We see how hard is to forgive, because it is difficult, perhaps the hardest labor.
But people who have never practiced it often say (assume) that: “What’s so difficult with this, after all I forgave all so I’m saved!”
But those who truly struggle know how hard this is. So it was not so simple what my elder told me: “Every night before you go to sleep forgive all from the heart and say: Lord I have forgiven everyone, I praise You to forgive me. And God will save you!”
This is a permanent struggle. Constantly, we must seek reasons to benefit those that wrong us: may be he was tired, maybe he is sick, (spiritually) he is less instructed than I am, it’s me that I did not understand him correctly, I was tired and upset … Lets take the blame upon us. It is a spiritual exercise by which we can be perfected in Christ.
So do not feel troubled, because no one can reach this state at once, as if it was so easy, then this command will no be at the center of the Gospel; God had not promised His kingdom for a thought that is so easy to achieve. It is hard labor. But through practice, if we persevere in seeking this, we will succeed.
Love, says St. Silouan of Mt. Athos, can be learned, it can become a habit.
We ought to struggle to have good thoughts and to reject the evil ones – let not converse or believe in them. So then we can become true disciples of Christ as He told us: “It is by this that man will know that you are my disciples – if you love one another.” (John 13:35)
But only through great effort, through inner work, we may reach this measure.
(Translations by EC)