Forgiveness From The Heart

There are times when forgiveness, which is nothing less than a breakthrough of the Kingdom of God on earth, flows with less difficulty from our hearts.  There are other times when our mouths may speak forgiveness, but our hearts still hold onto some grudge, some offence, some sin, and we are not able to grant the forgiveness so necessary for the sake of our souls.  Why is that?  Why does forgiveness proceed from us with less effort sometimes than at other times?  Further, if we are struggling with forgiving someone from our heart, what do we do?  Are there any "steps" we can take to help heal the rift of sin and find peace for our souls?  The parable of the Wicked Servant (Matthew18:23-35) offers an excellent model of the steps required to forgive from the heart.  There are at least three steps this parable teaches us that we can take, and really must take, in order for genuine forgiveness to proceed from our hearts, and therefore, for us to receive salvation.

In order for forgiveness to come from our heart, we first require the presence of the King, that is, Jesus Christ our King and God.  The wicked servant was brought into the royal chamber, into the presence of the King.  "And when He had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to Him who owed Him ten thousand talents" (Matthew18:24). It was the presence of the King and the King's judgment that awakened the soul of the wicked servant to the magnitude of his indebtedness. Likewise with us, God's presence, the sight of God, brings to our mind and heart the full weight of our sins.  So as often as we can we must come into the presence of the King; for us Orthodox Christians that means Confession and Communion.  It is true that Christ is present in us wherever we go, but we are forgetful creatures, ungrateful and callous as was the wicked servant.  We tend not to keep in our minds and hearts that Christ is present in us.  So we need to be reminded; we need to come into the presence of the King as often as we are able.  And though we travel out the doors of the church, our hearts and minds must always reside in the Church, that is, with God and in His presence.  It would have been better for the wicked servant to have stayed in the royal chamber, but as soon as he stepped out of it he got into trouble.  It is better for us if we avail ourselves of God's presence within the church in Confession and Communion and then, also, keep our hearts and minds in God's presence when we leave the royal chamber of the church.  That is the first step in forgiving our brother from the heart.

The second step requires us to be humbled in the King's presence as was the wicked servant.  That requires the presence of the King, but it also requires an accounting.  It was only when the wicked servant hears that his wife, his children and all his property must be sold in order to pay the debt, that he realizes the magnitude of his indebtedness.  It is at that moment that he "fell down before [the King] saying, 'Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.'"  It was only when the King decided to settle accounts that this wicked servant paid attention to his debt.  It was only then that he was humbled, realizing the consequences of how he lived his life.  We, too, need to be humbled in the presence of the King in order to forgive our brother from the heart.  It is in Christ's presence that we must acknowledge the full weight of our own indebtedness to Him, the full weight of our sins.  We, too, must kneel and fall down before Christ under the weight of our sins and beg for mercy, beg for patience, beg for forgiveness.  This is what the servant did in the presence of the King.  In the presence of our King we must acknowledge our sins, our sinfulness.  Where do we find the presence of the King? Where do we kneel down and hopefully acknowledge the weight of our sinfulness?  For us Orthodox Christians we do this in Confession, but also in the Divine Liturgy.  We come to where we know our King abides.  We know our King is present in the Sacraments of the Church.  We need to flee to the King in the Sacraments of the Church and be humbled in His presence.  So the second step in forgiving our brother from our heart is to fall down in the presence of Christ and acknowledge the full weight of our own indebtedness to Him because of our sin.  This is humbling for us.

The third step we must take in order to forgive from the heart is to keep the presence of God's forgiveness in our own heart.  Keeping God's forgiveness in our heart begins in Confession; it continues and is fulfilled in the reception of Communion, the Body and Blood of Christ, which obtained for us forgiveness of sins, and is confirmed in us by the way we conduct ourselves after we leave the royal chamber of the church.  This is exactly what the wicked servant lacked.  He was in the presence of the King. He did acknowledge the full weight of his indebtedness, but he did not keep in his heart the forgiveness he was given (note he was given it, but his actions show he never really received it - kind of like getting a present but never opening it) and so he treated the fellow servant mercilessly.  Once he left the presence of the King Who had forgiven him, the wicked servants' actions betrayed him.  They revealed that he no longer kept his heart and mind in the royal chamber, in the presence of the King; nor did he dwell on what he had been given.  Instead, he focused only on what the other servant owed him.  As soon as that happened, he forgot the King and treated the fellow servant in a way he had not been treated.  We, on the other hand, must keep present in our hearts the forgiveness we are given by God.  So often we focus only on what our brother has done to us, what we think we are "owed", but the abiding presence of God's forgiveness in our hearts, and the constant remembrance of it, is for us a strong fortress against the forgetfulness, ingratitude, and callousness that would rob us of the opportunity of sharing with others that which we have received. 

These are at least three of the steps required in order to forgive our brother from our heart:  The presence of the King, the humbling acknowledgement in His presence of our sins, and keeping His forgiveness ever present in our hearts.  The wicked servant took two of these steps, but not the third.  The punishment meted out to him for his behavior was torture.  We must take each of these steps.  Taking the steps will not remove the often impossible circumstances we find ourselves in with family, friends and especially fellow church-goers.  Rather, these steps will help us meet those circumstances with a good and right heart, with a heart that dwells with God, continually repents, and always remembers the Lord's forgiveness toward us.  Let us flee into God's presence as often as we are able in Confession and Communion.  Let us humbly acknowledge the magnitude of our indebtedness to God.  Let us never forget the readiness of our King to grant us a full pardon.  Let us heed the words of our King and Savior before we are called to the Final Judgment, "So also will My heavenly Father do to you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart."

Fr. Stephen Loposky

 


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