The Sunday of Forgiveness

We are going to do violence now.

 

In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.[1]

 

Today is the Sunday of Forgiveness, and it is also the day we enter Great Lent.  After we pray the Vespers service of Forgiveness early this afternoon, we will then be in the Holy Fast.  Why is it that we fast?  We have a blueprint for our life, and why we fast, in the Gospel today. 

 

Today is also interesting, because we are also commemorating the Finding of the Head of the Forerunner, and so we have this additional Gospel reading that has much richness in it. I want to quickly focus on one thing that it said:

 

"… the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force."[2]

 

We are going to do violence now.  We are setting out on a path of doing violence to the violent one.  We are casting that which is corrupt within us, and the Church has given us a path to do so. 

 

Our Lord said, first of all, "If ye forgive men their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will forgive you."[3] 

 

First and foremost in the Christian life is to forgive.   To forgive is to be like God - because God forgives all.  God loves all, without any respect for persons.  So when we forgive, we are participating in the energy of God.  We are acting like God!  And indeed, that is what we are to do.  In the scripture it says, "Ye are gods"[4].  We are to act like gods.  We are to acquire virtue, compassion, holiness, yea, even perfection, because the scriptures also say, "Be ye perfect, as my heavenly Father is perfect"[5].

 

So one must become like unto God, and the first step is to forgive.

 

And He says, "But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."[6]

 

This is actually a promise and a threat, but the promise is so much more powerful than the threat.  Oh, yes, if you do not forgive, you won't be saved.  If you hold grudges, even though someone has harmed you greatly in this life, you won’t be saved, because, over and over, the Church says, the Holy Scripture says, the saints say, the Holy Spirit says: forgive, forgive, forgive.

 

And if you do forgive, what will happen?   You will see Christ.  You won’t be corrupt anymore.  You'll have peace, you'll have rest.  The promise is greater than the threat.  Absolutely.

 

And then He gives us some counsel about fasting. 

 

"Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward."[7]

 

These are among the most terrible words in all of scripture: "They have their reward."  This life, this life of corruption, and foul odors, and difficulties, and sadness and strife, and tempests - that is where they have their reward.  These are terrible words.  So if you want your reward now, God will give it to you.  You can be as a hypocrite, you can make it appear that you are holy, and some people will say, "Isn't that remarkable what he is doing.  I could not do that.  He must be filled with the Holy Spirit."  But if you have the reward only now, your life is a total waste.

 

Then He tells us, in a figure through the glass darkly, as it were, what our reward will be.  He says,

 

"Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: {20} But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: {21} For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."[8] 

 

Do you know what we have been promised?  The entire world tells us a story of death, dying, difficulties, passions and sadness - all the world.  No matter how rich a man becomes, the world is a difficult place because within, there is a pitched battle.  And a man with a conscience is not at peace with who he is.  He wants to become better.  The whole world is corrupt, all we ever see. 

 

But what does He say?  "If you lay up treasures for yourselves in heaven, they do not corrupt.  They will last forever."  These are amazing thoughts here: Forever.  No corruption. Full of satisfaction, peace, rest. 

 

I do not have a day that I am at rest.  There is not a day that I do not endure sadness.  There is not a day that I do not sin.  But there will be a day, in the eighth day, if I struggle now, and also, if you struggle, that we will be in the presence of God.  The mind cannot conceive and understand what this means, because all we see is corruption, and everything changes.  It is so hard to stay good.  Things change all the time, and so often, it seems, for the worse.  But our Lord and Savior is telling us, If we lay up treasures for ourselves now, in heaven they will not corrupt.  We won't corrupt!"

 

In the other reading, John, a great man, greatest born of woman, could not understand.  It was so incomprehensible to him that the Messiah had actually come.  He believed, but he was full of wonderment, so he sent his disciples to Christ, and our Lord said, "Look at the evidence.  The blind see, the lame walk, the dead are raised, the poor have the Gospel preached to them."[9]  That is the greatest miracle. It gives people hope.  It makes people know what they are alive for.  We know what our Lord can do.

The evidence is all there, even though the world constantly countermands and slanders that evidence, every single day of our life, but we know the truth!  And this is why we are entering upon the Fast.  Because we want to lay up treasures in heaven, and we want to win the kingdom of Heaven by violence - violence against our passions, violence against that which saddens us - that part of us which is incomplete.  We want to cast it out, so that we can be filled.  That's why we fast. 

 

The reason one must forgive is because the task in our life is to become like God, to be filled with Him, and to become like Him morally - to share in the energies of God.  His love for us will transfigure us and make us incorrupt.  And a man cannot become incorrupt, he cannot become like God, if fundamentally he disavows himself from that most fundamental aspect of God: God is love.  Love forgives.  Love forgives seventy times seven times; love forgives infinite times.  No matter how great the transgression, the forgiveness is greater.

 

This is why we begin Great Fast with Forgiveness ceremony.  No, it is not just a ceremony.  Every man who looks into his heart sees that he falls short with every breath he takes, and that he wrongs every man.  If you see one of your brothers or sisters, and they have a difficulty, some conflict in their marriage, or with their children or with some substance or some other such thing - we all fall into difficulties - you should berate yourself and say, "Have I prayed for my brother?  Have I done something to help my brother?  Is it possible that he or she is in peril because of my incompetence?"  That's why we ask forgiveness of one another, even if we have not exactly offended everyone specifically.  But then again there might be grudges that need to be settled today, too, and we must do this if we wish to enter into the Fast.

 

The Apostle says,

"And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. "[10] 

 

This is the time.  The church sets aside this time, this tithe, or tenth, of the year, so that we would be able to intensify and remember who we are, and who God is, and change.  The first step is to forgive, and then we proceed with the Fast.  And I tell you it will be difficult.  I have been through seventeen of them, and all of them were difficult.

 

We all have our different temptations.  One is tempted to eat meat.  Another is tempted to be angry.  Another is tempted to fall into despondency.  Another is tempted in another way.  As many souls as there are, so many temptations are there.  But we struggle together as a community praying for one another and fasting and believing that there is a reward and that it is permanent. 

 

Nothing in this life - nothing - is permanent, and we are living for permanence.  And when I think of these thoughts, it makes it a bit easier to abstain from this food or that, or to make more prostrations, or to forgive my brother, even when he has harmed me, even when he has hurt me purposefully, because everything in this life is going away, except for how we have lived.  The way we have lived, if it is holy, is going to endure

 

There is something else during this great fast all of you should do.  It is very important for us to pray for one another, and also to pray for Paul, Susan and Seth.  They are going to be made catechumens next week.  We are going to have the service to make them catechumens, and the exorcism part of the service, just before Liturgy next Sunday. I would ask you and admonish you, as ones who love, because He loved us, that you will be here to support them in prayer, and not just on Sunday, but during the whole time of their catechuminate, that they would learn of sweetness, learn about faith, about the sweetness you can never have enough of.  And yet indeed there will come a time when we will have enough, but not in this life; in the next life.  We will be completely filled with Him if we live now according to Who He is.  Amen

 

 

 

Romans 13:11-14 And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. {12} The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. {13} Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. {14} But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof. {41:1} Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. {2} For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. {3} Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. {4} Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.

 

Matthew 6:14-21 For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: {15}But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. {16} Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. {17}But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; {18} That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly. {19} Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: {20} But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: {21} For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

 

 

Priest Seraphim Holland 1999.    

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[1] This homily was transcribed from one given in 1999, on the Sunday of Forgiveness, the last Sunday before Great Lent.  There are some stylistic changes and minor corrections made and several footnotes have been added, but otherwise, it is essentially in a colloquial, “spoken” style.

 

It is hoped that something in these words will help and edify the reader, but a sermon read from a page cannot enlighten a soul as much as attendance and reverent worship at the Vigil service, which prepares the soul for the Holy Liturgy, and the hearing of the scriptures and the preaching of them in the context of the Holy Divine Liturgy.  In such circumstances the soul is enlightened much more than when words are read on a page.

[2] Mat 11:12, partial

[3] Mat 6:14

[4] Psalm 82:6, Isaiah 41:23, John 10:34

[5] (Mat 5:48)  Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

[6] Mat 6:15

[7] Mat 6:16

[8] Mat 6:19-21

[9] (Mat 11:5)  "The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them."

[10] Romans 13:11

 





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