On Sunday mornings my wife Sophia and I turn to each other as we approach the chalice and I whisper, “Please forgive me.” She always replies, “Yes, and please forgive me.” I jokingly tell her, “I’ll think about it,” and then say, “Yes, of course I forgive you!” This simple practice has become a tradition for us, so much that we even text each other to ask forgiveness before Divine Liturgy when one of us is out of town. We started doing this before our marriage, and it continues to strengthen the foundation of our relationship and brings us closer together.
Asking another for forgiveness is different than simply apologizing. When we say “I’m sorry,” the typical response is, “It’s okay.” When we ask forgiveness, however, we humble ourselves and get deeper to the root of repentance, and the answer we hope to receive is, “I forgive you.” Therefore, while apologizing is an important step in repentance, taking it a step further and asking forgiveness is how we deepen our relationship with the other person and with God, and the way we find true healing.
We are made in the image and likeness of God, which means we are made to be like God. As Trinity, God is three persons, meaning He Himself is in perfect relationship—with Himself. Since we are made to be like God, we are also called to have perfect relationships with each other and with God. We attain perfect relationships by loving each other. When we fail to act in love, we sin, and when we sin we have the opportunity to reconcile with God and each other through forgiveness. Ever since the first sin in the Garden of Eden, God has given us the opportunity to ask forgiveness and to rejoin ourselves with Him. It is up to us to take advantage of the opportunity every time we miss the mark to ask forgiveness of each other and God through the sacrament of confession.
I often think of relationships that are centered on God like a triangle. Imagine you are point A, the other person is point B, and God is point C. When A moves closer to B, it also moves closer to C. Similarly, when A moves closer to C, it also moves closer to B. The point is, the closer we move toward God, the closer we move toward each other; and the closer we move toward each other, the closer we move toward God. We do this by keeping God as the center of our relationships, which is only accomplished through love and forgiveness. The more we forgive, the more we are able to love and grow closer to each other.
We are all part of many different kinds of families: biological families, nuclear families, extended families, parish families, school families, sports team families, etc. All families are simply a bunch of imperfect people in relationships together, and when we have a bunch of imperfect people, we have a lot of sin, which gives us lots of opportunities for forgiveness! As Christians we should constantly be striving to perfect those relationships by loving one another and continuously asking for—and giving others—forgiveness. This can be challenging because we often offend or hurt those closest to us, as they also offend and hurt us. Thus, families provide us countless opportunities to practice forgiveness. When we truly forgive, we let go of negative feelings and attain the freedom to love. Through forgiveness we as individuals and as families can grow closer to Christ by living a life that is pleasing to Him.
Christ took on flesh and became a man to show us how to live. He practiced forgiveness throughout His earthly life, even as He hung dying on the Cross, saying, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). What better example than this? Forgiveness is so important to us as Christians that we dedicate the Sunday before Lent to it, calling it “Forgiveness Sunday,” and we begin Lent with Forgiveness Vespers, which culminates with the Rite of Forgiveness. After Lent we celebrate our Lord’s Resurrection by singing, “It is the day of the Resurrection. Let us shine brightly for the festival, and also embrace one another. Brethren, let us say even to those who hate us, ‘Let us forgive everything for the Resurrection.’” The Church, in Her infinite wisdom, bookends our journey toward Pascha with forgiveness. If we want to grow closer together and we want to grow closer to Christ, we must forgive others and we must ask for forgiveness every chance we get.
Let us all practice forgiveness—both forgiving each other and asking forgiveness—when we sin. This is the only way to approach our Lord’s Resurrection, to approach the chalice, and to approach the Kingdom of Heaven. So next time we prepare to receive Communion, let us ask ourselves, “Have I asked forgiveness of God and of others? Have I gone to confession?” and “Have I forgiven others?” By forgiving each other regularly, Sophia and I are able to strengthen our relationship with Christ and thus grow closer together. As a result, our love for each other and for God grows every day. If we as Christians want to truly love each other and grow closer together, and if we want to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, we must continuously forgive as Christ forgave and take every opportunity to ask for forgiveness.
Chris Shadid has a Master of Divinity from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology. Additionally, he has a Master of Social Work and is a Licensed Social Worker. He works at Antiochian Village as an Assistant Camp Director and as the Antiochian Archdiocese Department of Camping’s Vice-Chair. In addition to serving at AV, Chris works as a therapist providing counseling to individuals, couples, and families of all ages and backgrounds who struggle with a variety of mental health issues. Chris recently married his wife Sophia, and they are enjoying married life together!