metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

Learn to forgive

19 July 1970
Theme: Spiritual life   Place: London Parish   Period: 1966-1970   Genre: Sermon

The world around us is full of hatred and turmoil, and however close we may feel to one another, however much we perceive a momentary peace in our hearts how near we are always to a moment when peace breaks down, when tensions become stronger than our sense of oneness and when strife sets in. And at those moments we must learn something which is at the very core of our relationship with men and our relationship with God, we must learn to forgive. And we do not achieve it because we expect forgiveness to be at first what it can only be at last, the Joy of reconciliation, the Joy that is born from the discovery that darkness is conquered by light, that joy has set in where bitterness and sadness were. But this is not where forgiveness begins and it is not our victory, this is a gift of mercy both divine and human forgiveness begins at the moment when offended, humiliated, betrayed, we can say in our hearts or aloud to the person who has done this “whatever you have done, I love you enough to take on all the consequences of your frailty, all the consequences of the evil which is stronger than your good will, and I will bear these consequences because my love does hot falter!” This is what God does to us; this is what absolution is when we receive it in the sacrament or penance, after our confession. Forgiveness is not given to us by God because we have already changed, neither does He forgive us because we shall change. We may change as a result of forgiveness if we only understand what it all means, but God does not wait until we have changed to forgive, otherwise no one would be forgiven. When we receive absolution when we are granted forgiveness from God, it always means that God says: I know all the depth of your faults, I know all your betrayals, I know how far from me you are, I know that your heart is grown cold and your mind darkened, I know that your will is not strong and yet, I witness before the whole of creation that my love does not falter, that ray love remains whole, that it belongs to you unreservedly; it was my joy, it has become crucifixion. It was our common life, it has now become the moment when I am on the Cross and you have brought me to it; you have been shouting “crucify Him, crucify Him” you have been walking around this Cross saying “If Thou art the Son of God, come down from the Cross.” You are responsible for it and yet my last word is: “Forgive, Father, he does not know what he is doing. Forgive Father, she does not know what she is doing.” And God takes upon Himself, by forgiving us, by witnessing that his love remains unshaken, He takes upon Himself final solidarity with us. He says to us: I called you into being, to share all my life, you have renounced it and reject it. Then I shall share all your life. I called you into eternity and bliss; you have opened up a depth of hell, I will walk into this hell. I will become man and share all the limitations, all the finitudes all the cruelty of the human condition which you have created. I will share it to the last, to the very point where your betrayal means the loss of God, and the loss of life. “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me” is the cry of Him who has willed to share with us everything, even our loss of God, because He wants to share all that is our life, because of love, and because of faith. Because not only does He loves us, but He has faith in us, that all that won’t be in vain. That is forgiveness. That is the kind of forgiveness to which we are called each of us with regard to each other, indeed not to this extents, not to this depth and magnitude; but we are called to say: however cold your heart has become to me, mine is warm enough for both. We cannot share blessedness, I will share hell with you, and not only the hell which others have created for you, no, the very hell which is in your heart for me to live in. Unless we can say this, we cannot say that we begin our way to forgiveness. Oh how much we wish to be able to say: the wounds which you have dealt on me are healed, the distress is over, peace, peace divine has come, but that comes after the agony of the Garden, it comes after the betrayal or the crucifixion, it comes after the death on the Cross, after the dereliction that kills, after three days when we lie numb and dead in the tomb. It comes when resurrection comes. When we who have forgiven, are risen in such a way that we can communicate life, life with abundance, life eternal, not before. And so, here we are, in a life were nothing is unspoiled by tension, by strife, by coldness, by darkening, by hatred, by dividedness, here we are, given by God an example and indeed a challenge and an opportunity. Live in hell, walk into it. If you walk into it with a love that does not hesitate to die then hell will cease to be hell. When Christ descended into hell, into the place where God is not, when He descended into it as a man who had accepted to lose God in order to remain with man. He brought into it the fulness of His Godhead and hell is no more the place where God is not. if it is anything, it is it is a place where we bewail our treason, our lovelessness, not a place from which God has turned away. And what if we have no love, what if we cannot afford even this. If we have no love that will make us say “I will share with you dereliction, the Fall, hell, godlessness,” then we must be prepared to say: “I am like you, how can I judge you?” and humbly stay together where we are together helpless, broken, fearful defeated, turning to God and saying “help us both, because we have both lost love, we have both lost life”. How wonderful it is to be able at any moment to come to a God who can absolve, forgive, because He has chosen to be with us, while we refused or proved unable to be with Him, and what joy it is to think that we can even in our fault, even in our weakness do the same with each other, break down, explode hell, make it a place of redemption, of reconciliation, of life instead of death. Glory be to God for that He has revealed us and for that He gives us power to recreate heaven where we have made hell. Amen.

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