You are sitting in church during the Resurrection service. It is virtually pitch black; the most notable exception is a single flicker of light from the altar. The warm sound of hymns fills the air, and the anticipation is building. You have been waiting for this moment for almost seven weeks—maybe, all year. Now the priest emerges from the sanctuary with a lit candle, chanting “Come, receive the light…” The once-dark space rapidly becomes aglow as the faithful eagerly accept and pass on the light.
The darkness is no more. Tonight, you are united as one family, one Body in Christ—many candles combining to reflect the one Light of the World. Soon, the gospel reading will proclaim the Resurrection, and shortly after that, this magnificent hymn is heard:
It is the Day of Resurrection! Let us shine forth in splendor for the Festival, and embrace one another. Let us say, ‘O brethren, even to those, who do not love us; let us forgive all things in the Resurrection, and thus, let us exclaim: ‘Christ is risen from the dead, trampling Death by death, and bestowing life to those in the tombs.’ – Doxastikon
The Church tells us as we bask in the transformative reality of the Resurrection that we are to “forgive all things.” Likewise, on the eve of Great Lent, the Church presented us with the Sunday of Forgiveness as a final, enduring theme for our lenten preparation. We see the need to forgive as a divine and perennial responsibility, whether in approaching, or, as now, having reached the festal period of Pascha. Forgiveness is an indispensible part of our Christian being. To celebrate Christ’s Resurrection—as God’s people—is to willingly accept the grace of forgiveness, both in granting it to others and actively seeking it for ourselves.
What Is Forgiveness and Why Can It Be So Hard?
The ability to forgive is the Christ-like trait to let go of offenses. That is not to say that forgiveness is always an easy or automatic process. Even when we consciously decide to forgive someone, we may cling to negative emotions and remember the hurt, disappointment, or embarrassment we experienced. However, when we remember we are all sinners in need of God’s mercy, forgiveness comes more naturally to us. We must also be mindful, that is only through the grace of God that we are able to forgive anyone.
Why Is Forgiveness Important?
When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we ask God to “forgive us our trespasses AS WE FORGIVE those who trespass against us.” In other words, being forgiven and forgiving others are two sides of the same coin. It is critical to remember, also, that we are forgiven by God with the same proportion as we forgive others. In Matthew 6:14-15 Christ says, “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” So, it is clear that forgiveness is important for our soul. In addition, a variety of studies have shown people who forgive unconditionally live longer than those who do not. Forgiveness is for our own physical, spiritual, and emotional wellbeing.
What Does It Mean to Forgive Unconditionially?
Unconditional forgiveness means that we don’t require anything of the person we are forgiving. We can’t say, “I’ll forgive him as soon as he pays the money back.” Or “I will forgive her as soon as she apologizes.” Forgiveness is about love—loving others as ourselves. Even if the other person isn’t ready to accept our forgiveness or to forgive us—because oftentimes responsibility lies on both ends—we still should seek it. We can only accept responsibility for ourselves and humbly pray for reconciliation.
How Many Times?
In Matthew 18:21-22, Peter asked Christ the limits to forgiveness even suggesting seven times for each person. Christ answers by saying, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” We understand the Lord’s response not to signify a literal number of 490, but, to figuratively imply that we are to forgive without limit. This is a tremendous example of the high calling of our baptism into Christ. In varying numbers and degrees of conflict, Christians are called to forgive as a faithful response to God’s unfathomable love for us. That said, it is important to note that if injuries against you are blatantly abusive, you must seek personal safety before you can begin working toward forgiveness. Forgiving does not mean allowing someone to continually abuse you.
How to Build Up Your Forgiveness Muscles (and model them for your children)
Forgiveness can be challenging, and we need to approach it with prayer and humility. We begin by examining our own sins and confessing them, as well as seeking forgiveness from those we have wronged. We need to be patient and honest with ourselves as we work toward this goal. Deeper wounds may impact the amount of time and help we need to make peace with a situation or person. Here are some things you can do to practice forgiveness in your home:
- Create a Forgiveness Ritual – Seeking forgiveness is important, especially before we receive Holy Communion. As a family, make it a practice before Divine Liturgy for everyone to ask one another for forgiveness. Discuss the meaning of forgiveness together and encourage one another to seek it out for day-to-day frustrations with one another. Learning and practicing forgiveness must first take place in our homes, among the people with whom we are most intimate.
- Pray Regularly – Prayer puts us in communication with God. Regular prayer will transform our hearts and calm us so that we may move us toward forgiveness. When we have a deep wound we need to make sure we include the person or people that we need to forgive in our prayers. Praying for them can be as simple as, “Lord, have mercy on….” Or, “Lord, help me create space in my heart to forgive this person.”
- See Christ in Others – Regularly reflecting on the fact that every person we encounter, however flawed, is created and loved by God, can help us be more compassionate and forgiving toward one another. Consider this quote by Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh:
Every one of us is in the image of God, and every one of us is like a damaged icon. But if we were given an icon damaged by time, damaged by circumstances, or desecrated by human hatred, we would treat it with reverence, with tenderness, with broken-heartedness. We would not pay attention primarily to the fact that it is damaged, but to the tragedy of its being damaged. We would concentrate on what is left of its beauty, and not on what is lost of its beauty.
- Confession as a sacrament – Holy Confession helps us unburden our soul and refocus on Christ. When we have difficulties we are struggling with, confessing can help us open our hearts to make room for forgiveness. The sacrament reconciles us with God and His creation.
- Get help – Sometimes, greater, issues make forgiveness difficult and require assistance to work through. Consider talking with your parish priest and/or a professional counselor for help.
Through working toward forgiveness in all our relationships we allow the light of Christ’s Resurrection to burn brightly in our hearts. We are better able to proclaim, “Christ is Risen!” and better able to pass our light on to others.
Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen!
George and Melissa Tsongranis are part of the Archdiocese Center for Family Care.