Today’s scripture is a perfect example of the “oil and wine” that our Lord mixes in His teachings to us, which I have mentioned many times, and just recently in the blog.
“Oil” is the soothing teachings of Christ, which are meant to console and comfort us, to give us hope and strong faith. “Wine” is the astringent teachings of Jesus: His rebukes and harsh sayings – things that should make us tremble if we are not living as we aught, and wake us up from our slumber.
Today, we have teaching that is the finest, smoothest, warmest and most soothing oil to some, but the most bitter and frightening wine to others:
And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses. (Mark 11:26)
Our Lord spoke about forgiveness and the conditions for it many times. When he taught us to pray, He included “and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors”. In today’s passage, it is even more clear: we MUST forgive if we are to be forgiven.
For those who hold grudges, have vendettas, remember wrongs, and indulge in the false sweetness of anger towards others, these words are terrible and bitter wine. If a person continues to not forgive others, then God will continue to pour this wine into his wounds, and in other areas of his life, attempt to bring the blind one to his senses. Since lack of forgiveness has as its mother pride, the words of the Brother of the Lord, which we also read today, apply fully to such a one: “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.”
These very same words are as oil to the humble, because our Lords words comfort the sinner who forgives other sinners: “And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”, and in other place, even more comforting: “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven” (Luke 6:37)
Our ‘Lord gives only ONE condition for our forgiveness; we must forgive others. What a comfort this is to the humble! The humble considers himself incapable of any works of righteousness, and perhaps such a one fails in many ways that a Christian may be measured, but he possessed in abundance that most important and indispensable virtue: he forgives others!
The marvelous grace that we are able to retain from forgiving others will eventually positively affect every area of our soul; from this virtue, which is grounded in love for others, self-awareness and humility, will flow all the other virtues.
If you cannot stop sinning, then cultivate in yourself the virtue of forgiving others. This is truly the east way to salvation! If you have trouble forgiving, pray to be able to forgive! An absolute must is that you MUST pray for those you have trouble forgiving. At least say “Lord have mercy upon the soul of ____” everyday. You cannot make ANY progress in the spiritual life without forgiving (or, at least, attempting to forgive with all your might) others. Any supposed progress is a sham, since our Lord’s words, above, guarantee us that if we do not forgive, we will not be forgiven.
My parish has heard many times this admonition: “If you cannot stop sinning, at least be kind!” The kind think of others, and minimize themselves. The kind forgive others. Therefore, “IF YOU CANNOT STOP SINNING, AT LEAST FORGIVE OTHERS!”
James 3:11-4:6 Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh. Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace. From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts. Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God. Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy? But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.
Mark 11:23-26 For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith. Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them. And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses.
Gleanings from the Fathers about forgiveness.
Did you see that brother who was negligent and lazy, who did not go down to the all-night vigils and did not do his duties, whom the brothers knew and held to be a negligent brother? When, therefore, he became sick and the hour of his death drew near, the brothers gathered to hear something beneficial, or to comfort him, or in case he wanted to say something to them, but they saw him rejoicing, cheerful.
One brother was scandalized and said, But what do we see in you, brother? We see you rejoicing, while you approach death? But our thought says to us that you were not a violent man and how do you have this courage and this rejoicing face? On what do you base this thing?
Yes, brothers, he said, really I was a negligent person and I did not fulfill my duties. But I achieved one good thing, by the grace of God — not to criticize any brother and not to scandalize anyone; and never did I allow my heart to have something against my brother of the monastery when the sun set. And inasmuch as I did not judge my brother, I believe that God will not judge me, even me, for He said, Judge not, that you not be judged (Mt. 7:1); and as long as I did not judge, I will not be judged.
The brothers marveled and said, Brother, very easily you found the way of salvation. And the brother died with much joy. Elder Ephraim of Philotheou Mount Athos, “Counsels from the Holy Mountain”. Quoted from http://www.orthodox.net/gleanings/judging_others.html
‘And forgive us our debts as we also forgive our debtors.’ For we have many sins. For we offend both in word and in thought, and very many things we do worthy of condemnation; and ‘if we say that we have no sin’ (I Jn. 1:8), we lie, as John says…The offenses committed against us are slight and trivial, and easily settled; but those which we have committed against God are great, and need such mercy as His only is. Take heed, therefore, lest for the slight and trivial sins against you, you shut out for yourself forgiveness from God for your very grievous sins. St. Cyril of Jerusalem (Catechetical Lectures: Lecture 23 no. 16) Quoted from http://www.orthodox.net/gleanings/forgiveness.html
Do we forgive our neighbors their trespasses? God also forgives us in His mercy. Do we refuse to forgive? God, too, will refuse to forgive us. As we treat our neighbors, so also does God treat us. The forgiveness, then, of your sins or unforgiveness, and hence also your salvation or destruction, depend on you yourself, man. For without forgiveness of sins there is no salvation. You can see for yourself how terrible it is. St. Tikhon of Zadonsk, Journey to Heaven Quoted from http://www.orthodox.net/gleanings/forgiveness.html
If you want cure your soul, you need four things. The first is to forgive your enemies. The second is to confess thoroughly. The third is to blame yourself. The fourth is to resolve to sin no more. If we wish to be saved, we must always blame ourselves and not attribute our wrong acts to others. And God, Who is most compassionate, will forgive us. Modern Orthodox Saints I, St. Cosmas Aitolos).Dr. Constantine Cavarnos., INSTITUTE FOR BYZANTINE AND MODERN GREEK STUDIES., Belmont, Massachusetts., pp.81-94. Quoted from http://www.orthodox.net/gleanings/forgiveness.html
Not only is it wonderful that He forgives us our sins, but also that He neither uncovers them nor does He make them stand forth clearly revealed. Nor does He force us to come forward and publicly proclaim our misdeeds, but He bids us to make our defense to Him alone and to confess our shins to Him. And yet, if any judge of a worldly tribunal were to tell some captured highwayman or grave robber to confess his crime and be excused from paying the penalty, this prisoner would with all alacrity admit the truth and scorn the disgrace in his desire to go free. But this is not the case in baptism. God forgives our sins and does not force us to make a parade of them in the presence of others. He seeks one thing only: that he who benefits by the forgiveness make learn the greatness of the gift. St. John Chrysostom, Baptismal Instructions. Quoted from http://www.orthodox.net/gleanings/forgiveness.html
Abba Zeno said, ‘If a man wants God to hear his prayer quickly, then before he prays for anything else, even his own soul, when he stands and stretches out his hands towards God, he must pray with all his heart for his enemies. Through this action God will hear everything that he asks.’ The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, Trans. by Benedicta Ward. Quoted from http://www.orthodox.net/gleanings/forgiveness.html
Do you not see, brethren, that we toil for nothing when we pray, if we have enmity against someone? And again the Lord says, ‘If you offer your gift at the altar, and there you remember that someone has something against you, leave your gift before the altar, and go first and be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift’. Therefore, it is clear that if you do not do this first, all that you offer will be unacceptable, but if you do the Master’s bidding, then implore the Lord with boldness, saying, ‘Forgive me my debts, Master, as I have forgiven my brother, so fulfilling your commandment. I, weak though I am, have forgiven’. For the Lover of mankind will answer, ‘If you have forgiven, I too will forgive. If you have pardoned, I too will pardon your sins. For I have authority on earth to forgive sins. Forgive and you will be forgiven’. St Ephrem the Syrian, ‘Three Short Discourses’, from ‘http://web.ukonline.co.uk/ephrem/3disc.htm’
Quoted from http://www.orthodox.net/gleanings/forgiving_others.html
Rightly did the Lord say, ‘My burden is light’. For what sort of weight is it, what sort of toil is it to forgive one’s brother his offences, which are light and of no importance, and to be pardoned for one’s own, and immediately justified?
He did not say, ‘Bring me money, or calves, or goats, or fasting, or vigils’, so that you could say, ‘I have none, I cannot’, but he ordered you to bring what is light and easy and immediate, saying, ‘Pardon your brother his offences, and I will pardon yours. You pardon small faults, a few halfpennies, or three pennies, while I give you the ten thousand talents. You only pardon without giving anything, I nevertheless both grant you pardon and give you healing and the Kingdom.
And I accept your gift, when you are reconciled to the one who is your enemy, when you have enmity against no one, when the sun does not go down on your anger.
When you have peace and love for all, then your prayer is acceptable, and your offering well-pleasing, and your house blessed and you blessed. But if you are not reconciled with your brother, how can you seek pardon from me? You trample on my words, and do you demand pardon? I, your Master, demand, and you pay no attention, and do you, a slave, dare to offer me prayer, or sacrifice, or first fruits, while you have enmity against someone? Just as you turn your face from your brother, so I too turn my eyes from your gift and your prayer.’ St Ephrem the Syrian, ‘Three Short Discourses’, from ‘http://web.ukonline.co.uk/ephrem/3disc.htm’. Quoted from http://www.orthodox.net/gleanings/forgiving_others.html
Antioch had another Patriarch who was compassionate and merciful; his name was Alexander. One of his secretaries once stole some gold from him, fled in fear and came to the Thebaid in Egypt. He was found wandering around by the bloodthirsty barbarians of Egypt and of the Thebaid; they took him to the remotest corner of their land. When the godly Alexander heard about this, he ransomed him from captivity at the cost of eighty-five pieces of gold. When the captive returned, the bishop was so loving and gentle with him that one of the inhabitants of the city once said: ‘There is nothing more profitable or advantageous for me than to sin against Alexander.” THE SPIRITUAL MEADOW of John Moscos. Quoted from http://www.orthodox.net/gleanings/forgiving_others.html
Keep your mind from malicious thoughts of your neighbors, knowing that such thoughts are hurled by diabolical power, to keep your mind from your own sins and from seeking God. Our Holy Father Elias of Egypt, November 3, Prologue Quoted from http://www.orthodox.net/gleanings/judging_others.html
When we judge our brother, we censure ourselves in a great sin. When therefore, we shield our brother, God will also shield us from great sins. When we uncover our brother, we drive off the grace of God from over us and we are given over to fall into the same things, so that we learn that we are all weak and the grace of God carries us. Whoever guards his tongue, that one guards his soul from great sins and falls. Elder Ephraim of Philotheou Mount Athos, “Counsels from the Holy Mountain”. Quoted from http://www.orthodox.net/gleanings/judging_others.html