St. George
Serbian Orthodox Church
Carmichaels, PA

Forgiveness Sunday - 2004

by Fr. Rodney Torbic

The Holy Orthodox Church is at the onset of Great Lent. This is a time of new beginning. This is the time to direct attention to the Kingdom of God. This is the time to be concerned about the soul.

The Desert Father Abba Poeman said of Abba Prior that everyday Abba Prior made a new beginning.i Great Lent is the opportunity for a new beginning for each of us.

This new beginning comes with forgiveness of each other and forgiveness of sins. The Holy Fathers have much to teach us about forgiveness. We benefit from examining the thinking of the Holy Fathers of the Church.

St. Cyril of Jerusalem said centuries ago: "The offenses committed against us are slight and trivial, and easily settled; but those which we have committed against God are great, and call for mercy such as His only is."

St. Cyril proceeded with words of caution: "Take heed, therefore, lest for these small inconsiderable sins against thyself, thou bar against thyself forgiveness from God for thy most grievous sins." ii

Great Lent is the opportunity to repent. Great Lent is the opportunity to turn complete attention to God. Great Lent is the opportunity to put behind us irritable remembrances that hinder Christian growth.

St. Germanus of Constantinople in his work On the Divine Liturgy said we pray that God might forgive us our debts if we do bear a grudge. St. Germanus said: "God has me as an example, and what I do to the other, He does unto me." iii

Our life in Christ is not separate from others in the world. We affect and are affected by our family members, our friends, acquaintances, co-workers, and others we meet in life. We affect and are affected by people throughout the world. Our lives are connected with people we may never see or hear from.

A good illustration of the these far reaching effects has to do with prayer. In the services of the Holy Orthodox Church, we pray for individuals throughout the world. Orthodox Christians in other parts of the world use the same prayers.

We may never meet each other. We will not meet all the Orthodox people praying at different times, in different languages, on different continents. Though we may never meet, we have an impact on each other through these prayers.

Similarly, if we hold negative stereotypes, negative images, negative thoughts about nations, or groups of people or certain individuals, these will influence our lives and the lives of those about whom we think such thoughts.

Great Lent is an opportunity to look carefully at ourselves and to see how far we have departed from the ways of God. Great Lent is an opportunity to carefully examine our thinking and our use of time. Great Lent is an opportunity to examine our use of language, and our use of talents.

God is the absolute standard and reference when conducting these examinations of self. St. Gregory of Nyssa stated: "But what greater evil is there than not to look at the beauty of the Creator, and to turn one's eyes towards shameful sin instead?" iv

Consider the images we permit to enter our homes through the medium of television or the written word or in photographic form. Consider the language, the conversations or thoughts occurring in our presence.

How do we measure up to the standards reflected in the words of St. Gregory of Nyssa? Do our homes, our lives, our work places, our goals and interests reflect a consistency with the beauty and glory of God?

Great Lent is an opportunity to move beyond the filth and dirt we accumulate in our lives. Great Lent is an opportunity to move to a higher standard of living, a standard of living more consistent with the ways of God.

We are behooved to pray as Christians. We are behooved to pray more fervently in Great Lent. The words of Evagarios the Solitary are preserved in The Philokalia. Evagarios' words are an impetus and a base line for measuring the quality of our prayers.

Evagarios said of prayer: "If when praying no other joy can attact you, then truly you have found prayer." v Who among us can pray with total concentration, day after day and for extended periods of time?

The Holy Apostle Paul told the Thessalonians to pray without ceasing. (I Thess.5:17) We all should strive to achieve the practice of praying without ceasing as set forth by St. Apostle Paul. Doing anything less than unceasing prayer is reason for a greater effort on our part.

Great Lent is the opportunity for newness of life. We know from the words of the Holy Apostle Paul to the Corinthians: "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new." (I Cor.5:17)

Being serious about Great Lent fosters growth in Christ. Being attentive to the suffering and sacrifice and love of Christ fosters growth in Christ. Being sensitive to personal sinfulness and sincere repentence draws one closer to Christ.

The Holy Mysteries of Confession and Communion bring unity with Christ. St. Cyril, Patriarch of Alexandria, stated: "God readily accepts and has mercy on those who do not forget their offenses, but fall down before Him, and ask of Him forgiveness; but He is severe, and very justly so, upon the obdurate and the proud, and on him who in his great ignorance aquits himself of blame." vi

St. Cyril, Patriarch of Alexandria makes it clear: "The road then to salvation, and which delivers those who earnestly walk thereon from the wrath of God, is the confession of offenses, and to say in our prayers to Him Who purifieth the wicked, Forgive us our sins." vii

Change comes through persistence. Change requires effort. Change requires constancy and perseverance.

The lenten journey appears long from this starting point. Pascha can appear far distant. Becoming new in Christ means maintaining hope. Becoming new in Christ means turning to Christ in faith. Becoming new in Christ means being willing to ask for the help and mercy of Christ.

Our Lord's words in the Gospel of St.Matthew can be taken literally. Our Lord said: "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Mt.ll:28)

Every day of Great Lent is important. The Church has set aside these specific days to be used to their fullest. We will not get these days back once they have passed.

Each day only comes once in a lifetime. Each day is to be used wisely. Each day is to be used fully. Each day is a gift from God to be used for the glory of God.

St. Cyprian was concerned about the lapsed. He said: "Let us do our utmost, dearest brethren to rouse ourselves, and breaking off the sleep of our past inertia, give our minds to the observance and fulfillment of Our Lord's commands." viii

Obedience to the commands of God is necessary for the serious Christian. Obediance to the ways of God is the only choice for the serious Christian.

Every year on Vidovdan Serbian Orthodox Christians are reminded regularly of the soundness of the decision made by St. Lazarus at the time of the Battle of Kosovo. St. Bishop NIKOLAI Velimirovic tells us: This is the crucial turning point in the life of every Christian and of every Christian people, namely: whether they will choose the heavenly kingdom or the earthly kingdom." ix

Every day we make the decision to choose the earthly or heavenly kingdom. Great Lent calls us toward the heavenly. Distractions and temptations call us elsewhere.

The battle is constant in our hearts and minds. At stake in this daily battle is the welfare of our soul. Prayer and fasting and almsgiving give us strength. Forgiveness is at the forefront of the effort and the condition for a sound beginning.

The Holy Orthodox Church sets forth forgiveness as the condition for the beginning of the Lenten Journey. Forgiveness is necessary in the depths of our hearts. Forgiveness is necessary in the recesses of our minds.

Bearing in mind the words of the Holy Apostle Paul to the Hebrews, "Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us." (Heb.12:1)

The joy of the Risen Christ fills every eon of time. Our consciousness of and true celebration of the Resurrection of Christ comes when we approach Great Lent in earnestness and "In the fear of God and with faith, draw near."
i The Sayings of the Desert Fathers. Cistercian Publications, Kalamazoo, Michigan, 1975, p. 179.
ii St. Cyril of Jerusalem. Lectures on the Christian Sacraments. St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, Crestwood, New York, 1977, p. 77.
iii St. Germanus of Constantinople. On the Divine Liturgy. St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, Crestwood, New York, 1984, p. 103.
iv St. Gregory of Nyssa. The Lord's Prayer, The Beatitudes, Ancient Christian Writers. Newman Press, New York, 1954, p. 75
v Evagarious the Solitary. The Philokalia. Vol. One. Translated by G. E. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, Kallistos Ware, Faber and Faber, London, 1979, p. 71.
vi St. Cyril, Patriarch of Alexandria. Commentary on the Gospel of St. Luke. Studion Publishers, 1983, p. 316.
vii Ibid.
viii St. Cyprian. The Lapsed, The Unity of the Catholic Church, Ancient Christian Writers. Newman Press, New York, 1956, p. 67.
ix St. Bishop NIKOLAI Velimirovic. A Treasury of Serbian Orthodox Spirituality. The Free Serbian Orthodox Diocese of the United States and Canada, Grayslake, Illiniois, p. 21.

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