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)