SUNDAY OF FORGIVENESS by Priest Seraphim Holland

We are going to do violence now, with fasting and forgiveness.

Romans 13:11-14:4 and Matthew 6:14-21


Today is the Sunday of Forgiveness; the Great Fast begins tomorrow.  Why is it that we fast? We have a blueprint for our life, and why we fast, in the Gospel today. 

Our Lord once told us:

…[T]he kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force. (Mt 11:12)

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

Today’s Gospel says:

If ye forgive men their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will forgive you. (Mt 6:14)

To forgive is to be like God. God forgives all and loves all, without any respect for persons. When we forgive, we are participating in the energy of God, because we are acting like God, since, in the Psalms it says, “Ye are gods” (Ps 82:6). We are to acquire virtue, compassion, holiness, yea, even perfection, because the Scriptures also say, “Be ye perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48).  One must become like unto God, and the first step is to forgive.

The reading continues:

But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Mt 6:15)

This is a promise and a threat, and the promise is much more powerful than the threat. 

The threat is substantial: If you do not forgive, even though someone has harmed you greatly in this life, you won’t be saved, because the Scripture and the saints and the Church with the Holy Spirit say countless times: Forgive, forgive, forgive.

And if you do forgive, what will happen? You will see Christ. You won’t be corrupt anymore. You will have peace, you’ll have rest. 

Today’s Gospel goes on to teach us how to fast, and if we have ears to hear, the expected result of 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. (Mt 6:16)

These are among the most terrible words in all of scripture: They have their reward.  

This life of corruption, and foul odors, and difficulties, and sadness and strife, and tempests—that is where they have their reward. If you want your reward now, God will give it to you. But if you have the reward only now, your life is a total waste.

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

Here is the promise: 

Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal…. (Mt 6:20)

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. 

The evidence is all there, even though the world constantly slanders that evidence, but we know the truth! And this is why we are entering upon the Fast: 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. 

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. A man cannot become incorrupt if he does not live according to that most fundamental aspect of God: God is love. Love forgives; it forgives seventy times seven; love forgives infinite times. No matter how great the transgression, the forgiveness is greater.

This is why we begin the Great Fast with the forgiveness 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.

Today, 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. (Rom 13:11)

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. 

It will be difficult. I have been through many 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. 

Nothing in this world—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. 

May God help us to do violence to our passions during this Great Lent, with fasting being one of our tools, and forgiving all men in loving all men being our aim as we seek a permanent reward, perfect peace, and union with God and knowledge of Him.

Father Seraphim Holland is the pastor of St. Nicholas Orthodox Church (ROCOR) in McKinney TX, a podcaster at Ancient Faith Ministries, and founder of Patriarch Joseph the All-Comely Prison Ministry

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