Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

Sunday before Exaltation of the Cross

24 September 1989

In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.

In today's Gospel we are told that God did not send His Only-Begotten Son into the world to judge the world but to save the world. The Living God became a true and living man, shared with us all our human destiny, our creatureliness, the situation of a fallen world, all its sufferings including the tragedy of death which implies the tragic loss of consciousness of His communion with the Father: My God, My God, why hath Thou forsaken Me?.. And we are saved by His life and by Hid death, we are saved by His words, ‘Father, forgive them because they don't know what they are doing’. But do such words apply to us who know, who should know — haven't we heard the Gospel? Do we not know what happened to Christ because of our sinfulness? Are we not aware that the words spoken by Christ apply to all of us? — and yet, with a difference.

Saint Seraphim of Sarov said to one of his visitors, Yes, be sure of God's forgiveness, be sure that God will respond to your prayer; but remember one thing: the price He had to pay to have power to forgive, and don't ask Him lightly for forgiveness, don't bring unworthy prayers unto Him, because it is His death that pleads our forgiveness. And we cannot, without a response from our deepest self turn to God and ask forgiveness at the cost of His death, if we bring nothing, nothing at all but our desire to be free of the burden that crushes us.

And if we ask ourselves what can we bring — we can bring first of all our gratitude. Our gratitude for that love which alone can save; a love so great that He accepted not only our human destiny, but to loose communion with the Father in order to identify Himself with us in all ways and respects, He, the Son of God, left God-less upon the Cross, and pleading for us that we may be forgiven...

But there is something else which we can learn from today's second Lesson: the story of the woman taken in adultery. This woman had been sinning, freely, light-mindedly, without understanding, indeed as one of those who did not know what they were doing! And of a sudden she found herself face to face with the fact that sin means death. She was taken in the act, and the Old Testament proclaimed death unto her. She realised then what sin was. And she was brought to Christ by the crowd who wanted to apply the harshness of the old-testamental law to her, without mercy. And Christ saw that at that moment she had understood everything. She knew that sin meant death, an ultimate destruction in the eyes of the people of the Old Testament who died in separation from God because only in Christ do we find our way back to Him. There was no other way than the descent into the sheol, the place of the irremediable and eternal absence of God. She knew that everything was over, not only the things that happen in time, but all eternity had become darkness and death: if she only could return to temporary life, to have time to repent, to have time to live in a way that was worthy of God and of herself, — she would do it!

And this is what Christ saw in her, this is why He turned to the judges, the sinful men and women who were prepared to kill this woman for her sins while they did not realise their own sinfulness and that they were carrying death upon their shoulders because of them. ‘Let those of you who are without sin cast the first stones’ — and no-one dared, because at that moment, these words so simple and so direct brought to their consciousness the fact, that, Yes — no one of them was without sin, and all had deserted God, renounced their dignity, had betrayed their vocation, and there was no other judgement about them than a death sentence: they could not pronounce it against this woman, because to pronounce it meant that they accepted it for themselves.

And Christ Who knew the hearts of those who were before Him, knew that this woman had gone through the gates of death, and could come back by a divine act that would resurrect her: yes, truly bring her back from an anticipated, but certain death. And He told her, Where are those who were condemning thee? Has no one done so? — No. — Neither do I condemn thee, go in peace, but sin no more!.. And these words she could indeed receive in her heart, those words indeed could become the law of her life, because now she knew in her body, in her soul, in her heart and mind, in all her being that sin was death. And she accepted forgiveness which meant life!

Where do we stand, each of us, when we come to confession, when we ask forgiveness from other people, when we are begged by others to forgive them — where do we stand? Are we aware that death is at work in us because of our God-lessness, our sinfulness, the fact that we have chosen? This woman did not know what she was doing, but we have the Gospel speaking to us, we have Christ speaking to us, we know all things: where do we stand?

Let us learn from her; and let us learn also from these men who came armed with stones, to stone the sinner, and realised that they were locked in the same tragedy of sin and death with her, and that they could not condemn her, because to condemn her meant to condemn themselves to the same death.

Are we aware of this when we refuse forgiveness? I am not speaking of the light-minded words of forgiveness which we pronounce so easily — but do we forgive from the depth of our heart? Can we say to God: Forgive as I forgive?

Let us stay with this thought, but also with the victorious joy that God has send His Son into the world not to judge it but to save it! That salvation is at hand! That it is for us to take it — and it is given gratuitously, as love is gratuitous and redeeming. Amen.



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