The Farce of Feeling Forgiveness


by Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon

It may be the case that we have heard the plainest words of Holy Scripture so often that we no longer really hear them. A long but shallow acquaintance with the Bible’s most obvious teachings may serve sometimes to deflect, if not actually to dull, even the keen double-edged sword of God’s Word. We assume that the point of the divine will has already pierced its way into our hearts, whereas in truth we may have spent much of our lives dodging and deftly parrying the thrust of the blade.

Take, for example, the simple mandate to love our enemies. The thing could hardly be plainer:

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you . . . But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? . . . And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you?”

Some of us assume we have heard this injunction, whereas it is likely that we have merely stepped aside to let it pass by. It is certainly the case that a modern prejudice makes the command to love our enemies a thing hard to understand.

Because in contemporary speech the word “love” rather frequently refers to feelings, there is a prior social disposition that prompts us to interpret this dominical command in a mainly emotional sense. We imagine ourselves directed to entertain kind and benevolent sentiments towards our enemies, so as long as we are blessed with the inner dexterity to throw these emotions prominently on our mental screen, we fancy that we really do love our enemies.

Regarded more closely, however, the Sacred Text says something quite different. It does not tell us how we are to feel toward our enemies. Indeed, it shows not the slightest interest in how we feel about our enemies. The love the Bible commands has about it, rather, a completely positive, active and practical sense.

The meaning of the verb “love” is illustrated by its context. Three times in the passage cited above the injunctions to “love” and to “do good” are set in parallel construction, creating what grammarians call a hendiadys, a rhetorical device in which a single idea is conveyed in two forms. Thus, the commands to “love” and to “do good” mean exactly the same thing, the second being simply the explanation of the first. That is to say, a lover is by biblical definition a do-gooder.

In the original Greek text, in fact, this hendiadys is strengthened by a play of parallel sounds:

ei agapate . . . ean agathopoiete—“if you love . . . if you do good.”

Now it may happen, surely, that by doing good to our enemies, our emotions may change. We may in due course come to feel differently about those enemies. Well and fine, but this is not the intent of the Lord’s command, which is directed to our activity, not our sensitivity.

Now in respect to this matter, we are burdened with a deep modern bias that takes “feelings” as the valid test of what is real. Thus, we judge those things to be most genuine that we feel most deeply, as though spontaneity creates authenticity. Our poor nervous systems are pressed into service as barometers of reality.

Consequently, when duty—even divinely imposed duty—obliges us to do things we do not necessarily feel, the current culture disposes us to regard ourselves as phony and insincere. This is surely nonsense. I submit that this completely bogus presupposition of contemporary culture is a great impediment to hearing and doing the Word of God (cf. James 1:22-23).

Doing good to our enemies is of a piece, of course, with forgiving them, a thing the Lord repeatedly commands. Once again, it is important to observe exactly the nature of the mandate. We are not enjoined to “feel forgiveness.” God seems not the least bit concerned how we feel on the subject of our enemies.

In this case too, it may happen that the cultivated habit of forgiving our enemies may actually lead, down the road, to subjective sentiments of forgiveness. Well and fine, but it is the act, not the feeling, which is commanded.

The martyred Stephen may have felt rather bitterly about those enemies,

“stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears,”

who were violently taking his life. If so, it is a matter of no moment. The important thing is that Stephen really forgave them (Acts 8:51,60).


Homily On Forgiveness

by Yako Pavilla

Text: Matt. 18:21-35

Date given: October 21, 2010

Location: St. Herman Seminary Homiletics Class

+In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Glory be to Jesus Christ!

My brothers and sisters in Christ, what is this parable about? The parable is about forgiveness. That is what we have to work on each and every one of us. If we have offended anyone, we must ask forgiveness and mean it with our whole heart.

Let us all ask ourselves: “Why did Jesus become man and take on our flesh? Why did Jesus undergo baptism and temptation? Why did he suffer and die upon the Cross?” Why? God is so merciful and loves His people that He sent His Only-Begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

My brothers and sisters, see how merciful and forgiving our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ is. He forgives us even when we call Him names, talk about Him behind His back, and even crucify Him.

“What you have done to the least of my brethren you have do it unto me,”

Jesus said.

We need forgiveness in our lives as clergy, spouses, as parents and children, as brothers and sisters. Where there if forgiveness there is love, peace, unity among the Church and its people, and above all there is God in the midst of us.

God never abandons us, even if we have been cruel to our brothers and sisters. Did He not say,

“I will not leave you orphans.”

And He gave us Jesus, His only Son, so we could have a chance to get to the kingdom of heaven. The servant was like the thief on the cross, asking Jesus to remember him in His kingdom. And Jesus said to him,

“Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

What a blessing it would be if He said that to each and every one of us.

If somebody offends us, is mean to us, just think that they are not only doing it to us. They are doing it to Jesus also, but let us be forgiving and pray for them:

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Let us not be unforgiving like the first servant. Remember, as the Lord has forgiven us, so we in return are obliged to grant this gift of forgiveness to others.

Again, the parable is clear. Being unforgiving means to be unforgiven and spend eternity in hell, or the other way forgive and be forgiven. May God have mercy on all of us and number us among his flock, always, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Resentment and Forgiveness

by Hieromonk Damascene

Hieromonk Damascene (Christensen) is an Eastern Orthodox priest, monk and spiritual child of ascetic and spiritual struggler Bl. Father Seraphim Rose, of St Herman of Alaska Monastery, Platina, California. Fr Damascene is the author of Fr Seraphim Rose: His Life And Works and Christ The Eternal Tao, as well as numerous articles on Eastern Orthodox faith, doctrine and spirituality. This article is from a talk delivered at the Annual Assembly of the Serbian Orthodox Diocese of Western America, St. George Serbian Orthodox Church, San Diego, California, February 28, 2003.

1. The Misuse of the Incensive Power

Since we are approaching Forgiveness Sunday, I’ve chosen, with the blessing of His Grace Bishop Longin, to speak on the subject of Anger, Judgment, and Resentment, and on their cure: Forgiveness and Reconciliation.

First I will speak about the problem and then I’ll discuss the solution.

Anger, judgment, remembrance of wrongs, grudges, resentment: these are passions with which all of us struggle in one way or another. Why are we prone to them? According to the Holy Fathers of the Church, the power that causes anger was part of man’s original nature, which was created “good” by God (cf. Genesis 1:31). The Fathers say that man’s soul was originally created with three powers:

  • the intellective or “knowing” power,
  • the appetitive or “desiring” power, and
  • the incensive or “fervent” power.

Continue reading Resentment and Forgiveness

What Was Christ Writing On The Ground?

by St. Nikolai Velimirovich

Bishop Nikolai, a gifted theologian combining a high level of erudition with the simplicity of a soul steeped in Christ-like love and humility, is often referred to as the “new Chrysostom” for his inspired preaching. As a spiritual father of the Serbian people, he constantly exhorted them to fulfill their calling as a nation: to serve Christ. During WWII he was imprisoned at the Dachau concentration camp . He later served as a hierarch here in America, where he died.

Once, the All-loving Lord was sitting in front of the temple in Jerusalem, nurturing hungry hearts with His sweet teachings.

And all the people came unto Him (John 8:2).

The Lord spoke to the people about eternal bliss, about the never-ending joy of the righteous in the eternal homeland in the heavens. And the people delighted in His divine words. The bitterness of many disappointed souls and the hostility of many of the offended vanished like snow under the bright rays of the sun. Continue reading What Was Christ Writing On The Ground?