Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

Vespers, Forgiveness Sunday

16.03.1986

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

We are now on our journey from the land of dereliction to the glorious land, where we meet the Loving God as children of His Kingdom. This church at this moment is an apt image of the situation in which we are; we are in twilight, and we see the sanctuary of God, God's own realm in all the glory of light. And yet we know that Christ has brought light into the world, that He is the Light, and that we are children of Light. It is from darkness to twilight, and from the twilight into the full glory of the uncreated Light of God that we are now moving. As in every journey, when one leaves the place of one's habitual abode, one is still full of feelings and memories and impressions; and then gradually they fade away until in the end nothing is left but the expectation of the end of our journey.

This is why, in the course of this first week of Lent, the penitential canon of St Andrew of Crete is read. For the last time we think of ourselves; for the last time we shake off the dust from our feet; for the last time we remember the wrongs of the past years, and before we proceed further to the Triumph of Orthodoxy, to the day when we remember that God has conquered, that He has come and brought the truth into the world, and life abundant, and joy, and love, we can turn a last time to ourselves and one another to ask one another for forgiveness: Free me from the fetters which my unworthiness has made and which tie me down; fetters which are made of sins of commission and sins of omission, of what was done by us to one another, and what was left undone that could have brought so much joy, so much hope, that would have been evidence to each of us that we are worthy of God's faith in us.

And so, in the course of this week let us for the last time look at ourselves and look at one another and make our peace. Making peace, reconciliation, does not mean that all problems are over. Christ came into the world to reconcile the world with Himself and in Him with God; we know what it cost Him: He gave Himself, helpless, vulnerable, unprotected, gave Himself to us, saying: Do with Me what you want, and when you will have done your worst — see that My love has never faltered, and that it could be joy and it could be searing pain, but it was nothing but love...

And this is an example which we can, which we must follow if we want to be Christ's own people. Forgiveness comes at the moment when we say to one another: I recognise your frailty, I see how deeply you wound me, and because I am wounded, because I am a victim — at times guilty, and at times innocent — I can turn to God, and from the depth of pain and of agony, of shame, and at times of despair, I can say to the Lord: Lord — forgive! He does not know what he is doing! If he only knew how deeply wounding his words are, if he only knew how destructive he is for me in my life, he would not do it. But he is blind, he is immature, he is frail; and I accept his frailty, and I will carry him, or her, as a good shepherd carries the lost sheep; because we are all lost sheep of the fold of Christ. Or else, if necessary, I will carry him, or her, or them as Christ carried His cross — to the point of death, to the point of love crucified, to the point when all power of forgiveness is given if we only have accepted to forgive whatever was done to us.

And so let us enter into this Lent, as one moves from darkness into twilight, and from twilight into light: with joy and light in our hearts, shaking off our feet the dust of the earth, shaking off all the fetters that make us prisoners — prisoners of greed, of envy, of fear, of hatred, of jealousy, prisoners of our lack of mutual understanding, prisoners of our self-centredness because we live like prisoners within ourselves and we are called by God to be free. Then we will see how step after step we move as though it were across the vast sea, away from the earth of darkness and twilight towards the divine Light, we will meet the Crucifix, and we will meet one day at the end of it, Love Divine revealed to us in its tragic perfection before it reaches us as an unutterable glory and joy. First — Passion Week, first the Cross; and then the wonder of Resurrection. We must enter into both, enter into the Passion of Christ together with Him, and enter together with Him in the great peace and in the shining light of the Resurrection.

For myself, I will ask forgiveness of you for all that I have not done that should have been done, for the awkward way in which I do things, and for the many, many things that should be done and are never done.

But let us now support one another on this journey by mutual forgiveness, by love, remembering that very often on a hard journey it is the people from whom we expect nothing good that at a moment of crisis will stretch out a supportive hand — people whom we thought were alien to us, or inimical, who suddenly will see our need and meet it. So, let us open our hearts, our minds and eyes and be ready to see and to respond.

Let us now begin by going to the icon of Christ, our God and our Saviour, who paid a heavy cost to have power to forgive; let us turn to Mother of God Who has given Her only-begotten Son for out salvation; if She can forgive — who would refuse forgiveness to us? And then turn to one another. While we come we will hear no longer songs of repentance, but as though they were coming from afar off, the hymns of the Resurrection that will grow stronger halfway when we reach the Feast of the Cross, and will fill this church and indeed the world in the night when Christ was risen and His victory won. Amen.



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