Lenten Reflections (IV)
Elder Sampson: On Forgiveness
FORGIVENESS —The Holy Fathers are the children of the grace of the Holy Spirit. The result of this action of grace is when the heart excuses. It loves, it can speak well of someone and pray for him. It does not remember offense or evil.
Therefore it is impossible to forgive and not excuse. This is a psychological fact. The heart is made this way. It was not the brain, not the nervous system—as science attempts to teach, and the psychiatrists especially—but it was the heart that was made this way by God. It is called a Christian heart. It excuses, it does everything possible in order to justify and excuse. Isn’t that so?! That is a Christian quality!
The pagan or the Moslem do not know about this… the action of the grace of the Holy Spirit Try telling a Moslem to justify and excuse, to love his enemy. He will kill you.
You will come to her with anger, scornful words, remembrance of wrongs, and especially with some sort of old accounts which were buried and decomposing and which will be resurrected!
Once I wanted to ask you why you never think to ask me, “What is it that angers you? What makes you so sad? What is it that upsets you so?”
It is always the same thing: an unchristian heart. A wicked heart that is unwilling to forgive. A heart that is at enmity with God because it does not want to forgive, does not intend to forgive, yet bethinks itself to say the Lord’s Prayer … “and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors …” while at the same time the heart and mind are at enmity with a man.
I get so upset at this … because external form is not useful to anyone, much less to God.
I think … I’ve always concluded: this means that they still have not gotten the point, that the whole secret, that all the salt of Christianity lies in this: to forgive, to excuse, to justify, not to know, not to remember evil. Not sin, but evil.
If you are quiet and peaceful within yourself, this means that you are absolutely at peace with heaven, and you are ready to endure any nastiness from that person. That person could overtake you, publicly remonstrate you, play dirty tricks on you, slander you, and you will smile. Not laugh, but smile! Because you will be so illuminated by blessed mercy
The drunkard, the fornicator, the proud—he will receive God’s mercy. But he who does not want to forgive, to excuse, to justify consciously, intentionally … that person closes himself to eternal life before God, and even more so in the present life. He is turned away and not heard [by God].
…Firstly, it is asked, what is a Christian heart? An unchristian heart is that which will not and cannot forgive and pardon. Cannot and will not! That is why such a heart is at enmity with God, cannot say the Lord’s Prayer, has no right to say the prayer “It is truly meet” and has no hope of eternal salvation, if it does not justify, pardon and somehow pray for a person, for people that it cannot stand, cannot forgive. We confess that the thief and the fornicator, the publican are saved, right? But the Pharisee was deprived of salvation, who only kept an external form of faith. He praised himself and could not forgive.
Father, can’t you tell us how we can make our hearts forgive?
The matter is that our reproaches, the most direct and perhaps coarse warnings do not work on the heart of such a person. The proud man is unable to forgive. A proud man does not want to forgive and asks, “Why can others not forgive and still pray and receive the Holy Mysteries—why do you insist that / forgive, and only then may I confess and receive Communion?” This is proud self-love and not Christian, when one does not want to and does not intend to forgive or love. How can the Lord God hear such a soul and forgive him anything, if his heart has no intention of forgiving?!
Father, well, people receive Communion anyway. Could it be that they make progress in some other virtues [despite their inability to forgive]?
No, no virtue can atone for the lack of forgiveness, the lack of love that these people have. No podvig [ascetic undertaking], no almsgiving can atone for refusal to forgive. Almsgiving by the fornicator is an abomination before God, for it is given by unclean hands. He gives alms, but at the same time intends to wallow in his beastly sin. His almsgiving cannot justify him if he does not repent and ask for help, that he might renounce his sin and his passion. And the unmerciful man is deprived of even the right to be heard and obtain the right to give alms. That is terrible! “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” That is the only condition for being heard, for salvation. You cannot buy off God with any formalities. The law of God is an absolute law! That is why it is so painful and difficult for us when we meet souls which are not Christian, that is, souls which have no intention, or even the desire, not only ability, to forgive. “And why,” you ask, “can’t you forgive?” “Because I am not loved,” the person says, “therefore I will not love!”
Father, do you allow them to approach the Chalice?
The same thing happened with me and one sister. My heart has not forgiven her.
That is a function of the laws of female jealousy.
No, it’s not.
If that is so, then you need to work on yourself, so that you can excuse that person, and judge yourself before God. It is all so stupid and impudent. The thing is that this is Christianity.
Father, you told me before that you don’t advise me to meet with her.
Right. I don’t advise you to irritate the person or yourself. If you are quiet and peaceful within yourself, this means that you are absolutely at peace with heaven, and you are ready to endure any nastiness from that person. That person could overtake you, publicly remonstrate you, play dirty tricks on you, slander you, and you will smile. Not laugh, but smile! Because you will be so illuminated by blessed mercy, and by such righteousness before God and the Mother of God, that all of these evil scourges will be a pleasure to you.
Well, Father, one needs to be blessed in such cases.
Do you know what?! Orthodox Christianity possesses within itself the Grace of the Holy Spirit. And the meaning of Orthodoxy is in the association with the Holy Spirit, and to carry it within yourself. It can do anything!!! This is precisely the sign of being Orthodox.
But he who flees silence, who does not love silence, will have great difficulty passing through the toll-houses. The demons could seize him for that alone, that he did not love silence and solitude.
We did have some eruptions, but I’ll go to her straightaway.
But you said that you don’t advise it.
I don’t advise it because I know her weaknesses and your weaknesses. You will come to her with anger, scornful words, remembrance of wrongs, and especially with some sort of old accounts which were buried and decomposing and which will be resurrected!
And I will be without peace after seeing her?
Accuse yourself, only do not accuse her, and not because she was wrong to you. This is a weak human being, so you take yourself in hand and be demanding only with yourself. This is what Christianity is all about.
In all circumstances being demanding only with yourself ?
Only with yourself. Even executioners can be excused and justified. He was fulfilling his duties—as he was ordered, so he does. I was never offended by them! [Elder Sampson was earlier shot by an executioner but survived.]
This is the lot of the Lord Himself. They crucified the Lord, but he said, “Lord, forgive them!”
Because they don’t know what they are doing. They haven’t the courage to say, “No! I won’t!” That is their only guilt. But the Lord will erase that guilt, because no one ever taught them.
Father, if I go to her, I will also need courage in order to smile at her.
If you come to her in the Lord, with the Jesus prayer in your pocket and the “All-Merciful,” you will sincerely smile. Your little knots* (*Little knots: that is, a prayer rope. Father blessed all of his spiritual children to pray with one, but in their pockets, secretly.) will be in your pocket. Very sincerely. You will say, “How do you feel? How happy I am that you look so well!” It is this Christian love that will be sincere, and not a Jesuitical kind!!
I think about her all the time. I should go to her, but I am afraid.
It is the sin of smallness of soul and the sin of lack of love, sisterly love. Yes, it is lack of love. I bear a terrible anxiety and sorrow, that none of us want to go after all to Κ . Everyone finds some excuse of their own. “It will be unprofitable, inconvenient—to what purpose would I be sacrificing myself!” But… that poor girl, alone between four walls.
Get strongly angry at yourself, take yourself in hand, have pity on yourself. (St. Theophany the Recluse)
But we are also alone!
You are healthy people, you should be glad that you are alone and no one comes to disturb your prayer, and you are allowed to be silent. What great wealth that is—to love and to be silent. More precious than gold! And you run away from this silence! That silence is torture to you. But he who flees silence, who does not love silence, will have great difficulty passing through the toll-houses. The demons could seize him for that alone, that he did not love silence and solitude. Because the soul is helpless when it has left the body…. Imagine for just a moment, that you have left your body, your “box,” right? You are alone. It is well if your Guardian Angel is present. But what if he isn’t? And the demons are tormenting you all around? And that will happen!!!
Father, don’t say such frightful things.
It is because we have not learned Christianity while here on the earth, but have substituted it with ceremony and formalities. To speak truthfully, we do not know how to pity ourselves. If we truly felt sorry for ourselves, we would think about our inevitable death, about the moment, the day of our separation from the body. We do not know how to pity ourselves, because we do not know how to get angry with ourselves and punish ourselves. St. Theophan the Recluse often advised in his letters: “Get strongly angry at yourself, take yourself in hand, have pity on yourself.”
The worst thing is not forgiving and not loving, and to have enmity in your heart. These are the three main reasons. The Lord will forgive the adulterer, the bandit, the thief, the Pharisee. But He will not forgive such a soul.
Well, I am not so cruel as to not forgive.
Take care for yourself. All of our Psalter readings, our Akathists and Canons, the Gospels—it is all empty if it does not make us soft, tender, loving, weeping. All of that reading will only be to our condemnation.
A spirit that is broken and humbled does not know how to have enmity. It forgives to the last, pardons to the last, and judges only itself, always searching endlessly for the guilt within itself. It will forgive and pardon every man, even though he were an executioner or a torturer. I have had many horrible ordeals in my life, but somehow it was all easily forgiven!
Father, did you really forgive it all in a moment?
One need only pray to the Mother of God and the offense is taken away. It is taken away if you only ask the Mother of God. It is enough for your heart to have some kind of direct contact with the Mother of God, and that horror, offense and injury, sorrow and slander will be taken away.
Father, perhaps it is only forgotten, but when you remember it resurfaces?
No! It cannot. If the heart has forgiven and excused, then it will not be remembered. It is remembered only in the attic, the memory, without the heart’s participation. That is why one must discriminate between these two things: the heart and the reason. A memory may be of the heart, or of the brain. If the heart has forgiven, then it will never remember, for it has no memory. The brain, the nervous system may not forget and may remember, but the heart will protest and force the brain to be silent.
Father, I had such an experience. In my heart I was at peace, but my reason remembered nevertheless.
Just as we are here, our hearts did not turn to the Mother of God. When you say the “All Merciful”: “Do not abhor me, do not turn away from me, do not abandon me, do not leave,” a coolness comes, quietude, and every situation in which you ask for help is forgiven. The same dark, rotten, wicked, dirty person who comes into association with Her momentarily has a change of heart, and the heart becomes soft and compunctionate. The broken and humbled spirit comes, which is the only sign of Christianity—there must be a broken and humbled spirit. Other than this there is no indication. Not the keeping of fasts, not going to church, not reading Akathists and Canons—no! But a spirit that is broken and humbled cannot not forgive—it cannot! This is a state of the heart, a Godly heart…
Father, the folk saying goes that time heals.
No! That is human wisdom, absolutely. The sharpness of the pain of heart or the impression on the nervous system may smooth out. But in this regard we are speaking in terms of the external circumstances, and not the spiritual or moral state.
The inner state?
Yes, the moral, the spiritual. That is, if the heart cannot forgive or excuse and after three year’s time remembers it just as distinctly.
No, Father, I can’t express my situation that way. This is how it was for me: when I remembered it, I frit bad. I could not even think of her, I felt sick. But now I don’t have the same reaction.
That is, your heart during that time strove to excuse and forgive her. Do you understand? It all depends on the heart. Otherwise it is not possible. After all, it is not the brain that receives the Grace of the Holy Spirit, but the heart. Saint Seraphim of Sarov always talked much about this to everyone.
What can an angry person do?
He must pray and pray for healing. For the sake of his faith, for the sake of his insistence the Lord will change his heart. Secondly, any manifestation of evil must always be redeemed through almsgiving. The alms must be something of your own, something you need, and not something that is lying around unused.
—Elder Sampson (The Orthodox Word, Vol. 30, 1994)
Kontakion of the Prodigal Son, Tone 3
I have recklessly forgotten Thy glory, O Father; and among sinners I have scattered the riches which Thou gavest me. Therefore I cry to Thee like the Prodigal: “I have sinned before Thee, O compassionate Father; receive me, a penitent, and make me as one of Thy hired servants.”
The Parable of the Prodigal Son
From the Explanation of the Gospel of St. Luke by Blessed Theophylact,
11-16. And He said, A certain man had two sons: and the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of the property that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living. And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there squandered his property with prodigal living. And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he longed to fill his belly with the pods that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him. This parable is like those which precede it. For it also presents a man, Who is in fact God, the Lover of man. The two sons represent the two kinds of men, righteous and sinners. The younger son said, Give me the portion of the property that falleth to me. Of old, from the beginning, righteousness belonged to human nature, which is why the older son (born at the beginning) does not become estranged from the father. But sin is an evil thing which was born later. This is why it is the younger son who alienates himself from the father, for the latter-born son grew up together with sin which had insinuated itself into man at a later time. The sinner is also called the younger son because the sinner is an innovator, a revolutionary, and a rebel, who defies his Father’s will.
Father, give me the portion of the property (ousia) that falleth to me. The essential property of man is his rational mind, his logos, always accompanied by his free will (autexousia), for all that is rational is inherently self-governing. The Lord gives us logos for us to use, according to our free will, as our own essential property. He gives to all alike, so that all alike are rational, and all alike are self-governing.3 But some of us use this generous gift rationally, in accordance with logos, while others of us squander the divine gift. Moreover, everything which the Lord has given us might be called our property, that is, the sky, the earth, the whole creation, the law and the prophets. But the later sinful generation, the younger son, saw the sky and made it a god, and saw the earth and worshipped it, and did not want to walk in the way of God’s law, and did evil to the prophets. On the other hand, the elder son, the righteous, used all these things for the glory of God. Therefore, having given all an equal share of logos and self-determination, God permits us to make our way according to our own will and compels no one to serve Him who is unwilling. If He had wanted to compel us, He would not have created us with logos and a free will. But the younger son completely spent this inheritance. Why? Because he had gone into a far country. When a man rebels against God and places himself far away from the fear of God, then he squanders all the divine gifts. But when we are near to God, we do not do such deeds that merit our destruction. As it is written, I beheld the Lord ever before me, for He is at my right hand, that I might not be shaken (Ps. 15:8). But when we are far from God and become rebellious, we both do, and suffer, the worst things, as it is written, Behold, they that remove themselves from Thee shall perish (Ps. 72:25).
The younger son indeed squandered and scattered his property. For every virtue is a simple and single entity, while its opposing vice is a many-branched complexity, creating numerous deceptions and errors. For example, the definition of bravery is simple, that is, when, how, and against whom, one ought to make use of one’s capacity to be stirred to action. But the vice of not being brave takes two forms, cowardice and recklessness. Do you see how logos can be scattered in every direction and the unity of virtue destroyed? When this essential property has been spent, and a man no longer walks in accordance with logos, by which I mean the natural law, nor proceeds according to the written law, nor listens to the prophets, then there arises a mighty famine—not a famine of bread, but a famine of hearing the word (logos) of the Lord (Amos 8:11). And he begins to be in want, because by not fearing the Lord he has departed far from Him. But there is no want to them that fear the Lord (Ps. 33:9). How is there no want to them that fear Him? Because blessed is the man that feareth the Lord; in His commandments shall he greatly delight. Therefore glory and riches shall be in his house, and far from being himself in want, he hath dispersed, he hath given to the poor (see Ps. 111). Therefore the man who makes a journey far from God, not keeping God’s dread face ever before his eyes, indeed is in want, having no divine logos at work in him.
And he went, that is, he proceeded and advanced in wickedness, and joined himself to a citizen of that country. He who is joined to the Lord becomes one Spirit with Him. But he who is joined to a harlot, that is, to the nature of the demons, becomes one body with her (I Cor. 6:16) and he makes himself all flesh, having no room in himself for the Spirit, as it was for those men at the time of the flood (Gen. 6:4). The citizens of that country far from God are none other than the demons. The man who joins himself to these citizens, having advanced and become powerful in wickedness, feeds the swine, that is, he teaches others evil and filthy deeds. For all those who take pleasure in the muck of shameful deeds and carnal passions are like swine. Pigs are never able to look upward because of the peculiar shape of their eyes. This is why, when a farmer grabs hold of a pig, he is not able to make it stop squealing until he turns it upside down on its back. This quiets the pig, as if, by looking upward, the pig can see things it had never seen before, and it is startled into silence. Such are they whose eyes are ever turned to filthy things, who never look upward. Therefore, a man who exceeds many others in wickedness can be said to feed swine. Such are the keepers of brothels, the captains of brigands, and the chief among publicans. All these may be said to feed swine. This wretched man desires to satisfy his sin and no one can give him this satisfaction. For he who is habitual in sinful passions receives no satisfaction from them. The pleasure does not endure, but is there one moment and gone the next, and the wretched man is again left empty. Sin is likened to the pods which the swine eat, because, like them, sin is sweet in taste yet rough and harsh in texture, giving momentary pleasure but causing ceaseless torments. Therefore, there is no man to provide satisfaction for him who takes pleasure in these wicked passions. Who can both satisfy him and quiet him? Cannot God? But God is not present, for the man who eats these things has traveled a far distance from God. Can the demons? They cannot, for they strive to accomplish just the opposite, namely, that wickedness never end or be satisfied.
17-21. And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, and am no longer worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no longer worthy to be called thy son. The man who until now had been prodigal came to himself. This is because he was “outside himself” and had taken leave of his true self so long as he committed foul deeds. Rightly is it said that he wasted and spent his essential property. This is why he was outside himself. For he who is not governed by logos, but lives irrationally without logos, and teaches others to do the same, is outside of himself and has abandoned his reason, which is his very essence. But when a man regains his logos (analogizetai) so as to see who he is and into what a state of wretchedness he has fallen, then he becomes himself again, and using his reason, he comes to repent and returns from his wanderings outside reason. He says hired servants, signifying the catechumens, who have not yet become sons because they have not yet been illumined by Holy Baptism. Indeed the catechumens have an abundance of the rational bread, the sustenance of the Word (Logos), because they hear each day the readings of Scripture.
Listen, so that you may learn the difference between a hired servant and a son. There are three ranks of those who are being saved. The first kind are like slaves who do what is good because they fear the judgment. This is what David means when he says, Nail down my flesh with the fear of Thee, for of Thy judgments am I afraid (Ps. 118:120). The second kind, who are like hired servants, are those who are eager to serve God because of their desire for the reward of good things, as David again says, I have inclined my heart to perform Thy statutes for ever for a recompense (Ps. 118:112). But if they are of the third kind, that is, if they are sons, they keep His commandments out of love for God. This is what David means when he says, 0 how I have loved Thy law, 0 Lord! The whole day long it is my meditation (Ps. 118:97); and again, with no mention of fear, I lifted up my hands to Thy commandments which I have loved (Ps. 118:48), and again, Wonderful are Thy testimonies, and because they are wonderful, therefore hath my soul searched them out (Ps. 118:129). One must understand the hired servants to refer not only to the catechumens, but also to all those in the Church who obey God out of some lesser motive than love. Therefore when a man is among the ranks of those who are sons, and then is disowned because of his sin, and sees others enjoying the divine gifts, and communing of the Divine Mysteries and of the Divine Bread, such a man ought indeed to apply to himself these piteous words, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise, arise, that is, from my fall into sin, and go to my Father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before Thee. When I abandoned heavenly things, I sinned against heaven, preferring shameful pleasure to heavenly things, and choosing the land of hunger instead of my true fatherland, heaven. Just as we have a saying that the man who prefers lead to gold sins against the gold, so too the man who prefers earthly things to heaven, sins against heaven. Indeed he has gone astray from the road that leads to heaven. Understand that when he sinned, he behaved as if he were not acting in the sight of God, that is, in the presence of God; but once he confesses his sin, then he realizes that he has sinned in the sight of God.
And he arose, and came to his father, for we must not only desire the things that are dear to God but must get up and do them as well. You see the warm repentance—behold now the compassion of the father. He did not wait for his son to come to him, but he went and met him on the way and embraced him. God is called Father on account of His goodness and kindness, even though by nature He is God Who encompasses all things so that He could have restricted a man within His embrace, no matter which way the man might try to turn. As the prophet says, The glory of God shall compass thee (Is. 58:8). Before, when the son distanced himself, it was fitting that God, as Father, release him from His embrace. But when the son drew near through prayer and repentance, it was fitting that God again enclose him within His embrace. Therefore the Father falls on the neck of the one who before had rebelled and who now shows that he has become obedient. And the Father kisses him, as a sign of reconciliation, and by this kiss He first makes holy the defiled one’s mouth, which is as it were the doorway to the whole man, and through this doorway He sends sanctification into the innermost being.
22-24. But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the first robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: and bring hither the grain-fed bullock, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry. The servants you may understand to mean the angels, the ministering spirits who are sent to serve those who are counted worthy of salvation. For the angels clothe the man who has turned from wickedness with the first robe, that is, with the original garment which we wore before we sinned, the garment of incorruption; or, it means that garment which is honored above all others, the robe of Baptism. For the baptismal robe is the first to be placed around me, and from it I receive a covering of my former shame and indecency. Therefore you may understand the servants to mean the angels who carry out all those things that are done on our behalf, and by means of which we are sanctified. You may also understand the servants to mean the priests. For they clothe the repentant sinner with Baptism and the word of teaching, placing around him the first robe, which is Christ Himself (for all we that have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ, Gal. 3:18). And they put a ring on his hand, which ring is the seal of Christ given at Chrismation so that we might execute good deeds in His name. The hand is a symbol of action, and the ring is a symbol of a seal. Therefore he who has been baptized, and, in general, everyone who has turned from wickedness, ought to have on his hand, that is, on his entire faculty of action, the seal and the mark of Christ, which is placed on him to show that he has been made new in the image of his Creator. You may also understand the ring to signify the earnest of the Spirit (II Cor. 1:21-22). By that I mean that God will give us perfect and complete good things when it is time for them; but for now He gives us gifts as earnest, that is, as tokens of assurance of those good things to come. For example, to some He gives the power to work miracles, to others the gift of teaching, and to others still other gifts; having received these gifts, we have more confident hope in the perfect and complete good things to come.
And shoes are put on his feet to protect him from scorpions, that is, from the seemingly small and hidden sins described by David (Ps. 18:12), which are in fact deadly. And these shoes also protect him from serpents, that is, from those sins which can be seen by all. And, in another sense, shoes are given to him who has been counted worthy of the first robe: God makes such a man ready to preach the Gospel and to bring benefit to others. This is Christianity—to benefit one’s neighbor. We are not ignorant of what is meant by the grain-fed bullock (ton moschon ton siteuton) which is slain and eaten. It is none other than the very Son of God, Who as a Man took flesh which is irrational and animal by nature, although He filled it with His own glory. Thus Christ is symbolized by the bullock, the Youngling which has never been put under the yoke of the law of sin; and He is grain-fed in the sense that Christ was set apart and prepared for this mystery from before the foundation of the world. And though it may seem somewhat difficult to take in, nevertheless it shall be said: the Bread which we break in the Eucharist appears to our eyes to be made of wheat (sitos) and thus may be called of wheat (siteutos); but in reality it is Flesh, and thus may be called the Bullock. For Christ Himself is both Bullock and Wheat. Therefore every one who is baptized and becomes a son of God, or rather, is restored to the status of son, and in general, every one who is cleansed from sin, communes of this Bullock of Wheat. Then he becomes the cause of gladness to the Father, and also to His servants, namely, the angels and the priests, because he who was dead is alive again, and he who was lost is found. For whoever is dead from the abundance of his wickedness is without hope; but whoever is able, with his changeable human nature, to change from wickedness to virtue, is said to be merely lost. To be lost is less severe than to be dead.
25-32. Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the grain-fed bullock, because he hath received him safe and sound. And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and entreated him. And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gayest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: but as soon as this thy son was come, who hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the grain-fed bullock. And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found. Here is the celebrated question—how is it that the son who lived a God-pleasing life in all other respects, and who faithfully served his father, could display such envy? The question will be answered if one considers the reason why this parable was told. This parable and the ones preceding it were told because the Pharisees, who considered themselves pure and righteous, were grumbling at the Lord because He received harlots and publicans. The Pharisees murmured indignantly, believing themselves to be more righteous than the publicans, which is why the Lord presented this parable. Consider that the figure of the son who is seen to grumble is understood to refer to all those who are scandalized at the sudden good fortune and deliverance of sinners. Such men grumble, not because of envy, but because neither they nor we can understand the outpouring of God’s compassion for man. Does not David bring forward the figure of a man scandalized at the peace of sinners (Ps. 72:3)? And Jeremiah likewise, when he says, Why is it that the way of ungodly men prosper? Thou hast planted them, and they have taken root (Jer. 12:1-2). Such thoughts reflect man’s weak and poor understanding, which easily ignites with annoyance and questions the good fortune of the wicked, which seems undeserved.
In this parable, therefore, the Lord is saying to the Pharisees words like these: “Let us suppose that you are as righteous as that elder son and well-pleasing to the Father; I entreat you who are righteous and pure not to grumble, as this elder son did, against the gladness which we are showing over the salvation of the sinner, who is also a son.” Do you see that this parable is not about envy? Instead, by means of this parable, the Lord is instructing the minds of the Pharisees, so that they will not be vexed that the Lord receives sinners, even though they themselves are righteous and have fulfilled every commandment of God. It is no wonder that we too become vexed at those who appear undeserving. God’s compassion is so great, and He gives to us so abundantly of His own good things, that we may even grumble at His generosity. That criticism follows generosity is a fact to which we refer in everyday speech. If we do good to someone who fails to thank us, we often say to him, “Everyone says I am a fool for having been so good to you.” We use this expression, even if no one has actually criticized us, because extreme generosity is so often followed by criticism that to suggest the latter is to prove the former. But let us turn to the particulars of the parable, in brief.
The elder son was in the field, that is, in this world, working his own land, meaning his flesh, so that he might have his fill of bread, sowing with tears so that he might reap with rejoicing. When he learned what was being done, he did not want to enter into the common joy. But the compassionate father goes out and begs him to come in, and explains to him the reason for the joy, that a man who was dead has come back to life. Because as a man he did not understand, and because he was scandalized, the elder son accused the father of not giving him even a young goat, while for the prodigal son he slaughtered the fatted calf. What does the kid, the young goat, signify? You may learn here. Every young goat is considered to be of the portion of sinners who are placed on the left side. The righteous son is saying, then, “I have passed my life in toil and labor, I have been persecuted, suffered hardships, been oppressed by sinners, and on my behalf you have never slaughtered and killed a kid, that is, a sinner who afflicts me, so that I might have some small measure of rest.” For example, King Ahab was just such a goat to the Prophet Elijah. Ahab persecuted Elijah, but the Lord did not quickly give this goat over to the slaughter so that Elijah could have some small rest, and take his ease with his friends, the prophets. Therefore Elijah complained to God, Lord, they have digged down Thine altars, and have slain Thy prophets (III Kings 19:10) And Saul was a goat to David, as were also all those who slandered David. But the Lord allowed them to tempt him, and did not slay them to give David some rest. Therefore David said, How long shall sinners, 0 Lord, how long shall sinners boast (Ps. 93:3)? The elder son in the parable is saying these things: “You did not count me worthy of any consolation in all my toils; you never handed over to me for slaughter any of these who were afflicting me. But now you save the prodigal son who never had to toil.”
This is the entire purpose of the parable—to correct the Pharisees who were grumbling that He had accepted sinners. The parable also instructs us that no matter how righteous we may be, we ought not to rebuff sinners, nor to grumble when God accepts them. The younger son, therefore, represents the harlots and the publicans; the elder son represents those Pharisees and scribes who consider themselves righteous. It is as if God were saying, “Let us suppose that you are indeed righteous and have not transgressed any commandments; if some others have turned away from wickedness, why do you not accept them as your brothers and fellow laborers?” I am not unaware that some have interpreted the elder son to signify the angels, and the younger son, the latter-born nature of men which rebelled against the commandment it was given and went astray. Still others have said that the two sons represent the Israelites and the Gentiles who later believed. But the simple truth is this: the person of the elder son signifies the righteous, and the person of the younger son signifies sinners who have repented and returned. The entirety of the parable is given for the sake of the Pharisees, to teach them not to be vexed that sinners are received, even if they themselves are righteous. Let no one be vexed at the judgments of God—let him be patient with those apparent sinners who prosper, and are saved. How do you know whether a man whom you think is a sinner has not repented, and on this account has been accepted? Or that he has secret virtues on account of which God looks favorably upon him?
An Orthodox Theology of Time – V / V -Conclusion
Time as Renewal: Growth unto Goodness in Christ. The concept of the liturgical Eighth Day. If time is the change inherent in being created then can we experience our life as other than a growth unto death? Can we experience life as perhaps, a growth unto goodness in Christ in His Church?
Therefore, let not a person be grieved by the fact that his nature is mutable; rather, by always being changed to what is better and by being transformed from glory to glory (2 Cor 3.18), let him so be changed: by daily growth he always becomes better and is always being perfected yet never attains perfection’s goal. For perfection truly consists in never stopping our increase towards the better nor to limit perfection with any boundary (Gregory of Nyssa, On Perfection, p.379)
Decay unto death can be renewed as a growth unto life in Jesus Christ. … Our everlasting God has come down into the broken temporality of time and renewed our memory in the saving event of Jesus Christ, God as Man and Man for God.
Memory needs to be healed not destroyed. Often the greatest difficulties in our lives are the result of being plagued by evil memories, which wound and lacerate us as persons. Indeed, we pray at Great Vespers that God will protect us “from vain thoughts and from evil memories.”An image exists for this ‘weight of memory’ at the end of the Purgatorio when Dante, after confessing to Beatrice, first drinks of the river of Lethe forgetting all the evil and sin of his past life then drinking of the river of Eunöe (‘good remembrance’ or ‘good mind’) and remembering everything but from the perspective of the grace and love of God.
Forgiveness, then, is a process of progressive confession and absolution where we gradually let go of the past (are freed from its chains) by confronting the past and then giving it up in forgiveness (forgetting it without repression) so that we can regain it back from Jesus Christ through His remembrance in love. This healed or forgiven memory is paradise regained, that is, “radical innocence” as Yeats termed the state of learned childlikeness after our dreaming innocence has gone through the fire of experience.
We are given this renewal of our memory, this reality of memory shining forth with the light of the new age of the coming Kingdom of God fulfilled once for all time on the cross (‘It is finished!’/’Behold I make all things new’), in the perpetual rebirth—perpetual Pentecost—of the Church in its praise of God. In praising God, the Church is given the gift of the eternal Memory of the Spirit whereby we remember the life of Christ as our very own thus redeeming all memory under the sign of His cross. Such ‘eternal remembrance’ renews the face of the earth and makes of it, as Schmemann put it, a “liturgical paradise.”
“Today, a sacred Pascha is revealed to us” or “This is the day of resurrection”or yet again “On Mount Tabor, O Lord, Thou hast shown today the glory of Thy divine form unto Thy chosen disciples”.
In Christ, as the Lord of Time, is realized the ingathering of all moments in One Moment of what we might call an ‘eternal temporality’ and which Schmemann calls temps immobile, that is, the co-inherence or co-presence of each part of time to each other in the present, in Jesus Christ.
Christ is Himself the Lord of Chronos or time proper because He is the Kyrios Kairou, Lord of the appointed time of our salvation. In Him, our broken mode of temporality, chronos, is renewed and sanctified, ascending with Him to the Father and becoming a spiritual mode of time through its marriage with creaturely eternity (aeon).
But when He returns to us in His Body and Blood in the liturgy, which is both our ascent to God and His descent to us, we see that our new mode of time, eternal temporality, is something radically new to creation, sensible and spiritual at once, as it has partaken of the very mode of God Himself as everlasting Trinity (aidiotes), God before the ages.
Therefore, the central locus of this ingathering of time is our Lord’s anamnesis or His recollection of His own saving actions in the liturgy in which His living memory becomes life everlasting by renewing all time in the new age of His Kingdom. This Kingdom of Jesus Christ is the very same life we will receive at the resurrection on the last day. It has been variously described as the ‘eighth day’ or ‘liturgy without end’ and it is granted as a gracious foretaste to us. It is a sort of liturgical in-breaking of the life to come in our crooked and wounded time.
Harrowing of Hades, fresco in the parecclesion of the Chora Church, Istanbul, c. 1315, raising Adam and Eve is depicted as part of the Resurrection icon
It should be noted that when, in Scripture, Christ remembers His own Body and Blood broken and shed for the life of the world, it is prior to the actual sacrifice. In other words, in Christ’s remembrance, memory is not merely retrospective, in that it looks back at a life of sacrifice, but it is also simultaneously prospective in actuating prophetically the sacrifice of the cross before it happens.
Likewise, our Lord as our Great High Priest remembers us and all time before the Father in heaven when at the Anaphora on the Lord’s Day the priest says both retrospectively and prospectively at once: “Remembering this saving commandment and all those things which have come to pass for us: the Cross, the Tomb, the Resurrection on the third day, the Ascension into heaven, the Sitting down at the right hand, and the second and glorious Coming.”
Christ’s memory is eschatological, a remembering of the future life to come. Thus the Christian life is one of memory eternal where we live in the liturgical ingathering of all moments by remembering, with Christ, the saving acts that have accomplished our salvation now and to come. In the Christian life lived as anamnesis, past and future converge in one another in the present moment of our loving memory where we taste of the new age given in our midst.
Eternal memory is not the destruction of the past as past and the future as future but their clarification and illumination in encountering each other in our present consciousness of Jesus Christ who gives us eternal life. To borrow a phrase from Berdyaev, “Immortality is memory made clear and serene.”
Christ, then, as our renewed memory effecting salvation has, as Schmemann put it, “power over time” because He makes time His own as its Lord and does not destroy it but burns away, with healing fire, its wounds, making it itself through contact with Himself insofar as “Eternity is not the negation of time, but time’s absolute wholeness, gathering and restoration.”
Source: Excerpts from http://www.bogoslov.ru/en/text/2668945.html
VIDEO: The Great Persecution of our Time is Here —
The Nine Overcoming ISIS
Watch this powerful mini-documentary about nine confessors of Jesus Christ in Iraq
“Lord Jesus Christ, grant us all this faith and courage to bear our crosses and confess You before the world, to love and forgive our persecutors, and to follow You even to Golgotha. And to give You thanks and glory through it all!”
Video by Mighty LA, the ones who brought you A Letter from the People of the Cross to ISIS
A Letter from the People of the Cross to ISIS
The world is talking about you
Your apocalyptic dreams and spectacular sins
Are now awakening the Middle East
In your Holy War, come to Holy Ground
Come, children of Abraham come
The People of the Cross gathers at your gates with a message
Love is coming after you.
Like a rush of wind grazing over the Pacific
From hills of the mount of olives to the desert winds of Jordan
From the cedars of lebanon to the silk roads of the East
An army comes.
With no tanks or soldiers
But an army of martyrs faithful unto death
Carrying a message of life
The people of the cross
Comes to die at your gates.
If you won’t hear our message with words
Then we will show you with our lives laid down.
For every throat you slit and every woman you rape
For every man you burn and every child you turn to dust
There is blood on your hands brother
But Come Brothers Come
Come with your bloodstained hands,
Come with your eyes full of murder for the people of the Cross,
Come lay your guns and your knives at the foot of the Cross
A love that is overdue and overwhelming
Breathes through your cities
Though your sins are like scarlet
They can be washed white as snow
Though you call yourselves servants
He will make you into Sons
Where can you run from His love?
Even the darkness cannot hide you
Come Brothers Come
There is the sound of a rushing rain
To remove your sins and bind your wounds
You die for your god but our God died for us
The King of Kings comes to be the sacrificial lamb
Slain on the altar where we should have been
Jesus Christ, Isa Al Masih
Walks through the Middle East
There is forgiveness tonight oh brother
There is healing for your sins oh brother
We are no different.
Apart from Christ, we are no better than the worst jihadist
Christ has been crucified once. and for All.
To make sinners like you and me into brothers
Heartbreaking Paintings and Poems from Communist Prisons in Romania — II
Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday, Monday
Neutral days without form,
Like a great fog
Over the landscape
Good morning, prison cell!
Good night, prison bars!
I’d smash you as a mastiff in his fangs
I’d rend you with my teeth, O Cell!
I stand in Time terribly naked
With my soul planted in liquid eternity,
Like an atoll in an ocean
Beaten by torrid winds…
Dungeon, dungeon, mad fortress,
How my hate would set fire to you!
Life, life outside,
How dare you dance in my dreams like a puppet!
Tuesday,Wednesday,Friday – what day is it?
the week is a dead amassment;
My months pass through no calendar,
My island is on no map.
Monday, Wednesday, Thursday – The devil take you!
Stinking days – Stagnant days,
Here in the jaws of eternity
Who shall count your dark hundreds?
If ever I was a cluster of grapes,
today I am residue left by the press.
Into the fathomless hunger in me
pour some drop of juice.
I feel how my body is melting away,
a soup of amaranth would warm it.
If touched by a blade of grass
in a flash I’d be green.
At least let my phantom arm
pick an apple from a tree.
It will fill my mouth with aroma
and I would truly live.
In the country of sheep folds and bread
I dream of mushroom soup.
Let me shelter with the dogs
near the heaven of a bowl of terci.*
On the depth of my hunger
blind deserts open up.
When the last spoonful is eaten
I drop over my bowl and spoon.
O God, You Who
out of two fishes and five loaves
made mountains of food
and satisfied thousands of poor
Repeat the miracle, O Good One,
and satisfy thousands of mouths.
Listen also to my prayer,
Give me the basket of crumbs.
* terci – a thin gruel often given to dogs
JESUS IN THE NIGHT
This night Jesus entered my cell.
O how sad, how tall was Christ!
The moon followed Him into my cell
And made Him taller, sadder still.
He sat by me upon my mat;
“Put your hand upon my wounds.”
On His ankle there were scars from sores and rust
As if He too had worn chains once…
His hands were like lilies upon a grave,
His eyes as deep as forests;
His garments whitened by the moon,
Silvering in His hands old wounds.
Sighing, He stretched His weary bones
Upon my lousy mat;
In His sleep He shone forth, but the heavy bars
Lengthened upon Him like rods.
I rose from beneath my gray blanket.
“Lord, from whence come you? Out of which eternity?”
Jesus put His finger to His lips
And signed me to be still.
My cell seemed like a mountain peak;
Rats and roaches swarmed around;
I felt my head fall heavy upon my hand
And I slept, a thousand years…
When I awoke from my heavy trance
The straw smelled of roses;
I was in my cell and there was moonlight
But Jesus was nowhere.
“Where are you, Lord?” I cried between the bars.
Across the moon came drifts of mist…
I touched myself, and found upon my palms
The sign of His nails.
The exhausted wind froze
like a bow on a cracked violin.
Last night an angel knocked in my door,
his voice weak, his tread tired.
I don’t know if he came from heaven
or some earthly cross
but he looked at me with wounded eyes,
trembling with cold when I welcomed him.
In his eyes of strange god
it was as if some grave illness battled
and he gazed at me with blood-filled eyes
and all that night he wept upon my breast.
In the morning I found him no more.
vestiges of red footprints faded from my door.
Far away in the sky on a cracked violin
the wind fell like a broken bow.
Poems from Communist Prisons by Mother Alexandra
Within this booklet are a few poems originally written in Romanian, chosen from a large collection, POEZII DIN INCHISORI, edited by Zahu Pana, published by CUVANTUL ROMANESC, 1982
They were written or rather composed by political prisoners who had no paper on which to write. They were memorized by those who survived, and finally spirited out to the free West. Remarkable in that they are true poetry of the soul, they express various emotions of those unjustly imprisoned by the Communist Party, for the crime of independent thought. None of these poets were criminals. They were philosophers, theologians (lay or clergy), generals, intellectuals of all sorts, factory workmen and tillers of the soil. Women and even children shared the same fate.