Thursday, February 27, 2014

Fr Georges Massouh on Forgiveness

Arabic original here.

He Who Forgives Resembles God

This coming Monday begins the path of Great Lent, at the end of which Christians greet the glorious feast of Easter, the feast of Christ's resurrection from the dead. Before this, the Church reminds her children through her choice of texts from the Gospel for the four Sundays preceding the fast that its purpose is nothing other than the acquisition of the Christian virtues, the most important of which are humility, repentance, love and forgiveness.

This coming Sunday is Meatfare Sunday, and the Church has chosen to give it the name "Forgiveness Sunday". On the eve of the fast, the faithful are called to heed the Lord and act according to His words, "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" (Matthew 6:14-15).

In his commentary on these verses, Saint Cyprian of Carthage (d. 258) warns the faithful of the necessity of adhering to the requirements for God forgiving them, which is their forgiving those who do them wrong. He says, "He will forgive our sin just as we forgive those who do us wrong, with the knowledge that we cannot obtain forgiveness of our sins if we do not forgive in return those who do us wrong."

Before asking for forgiveness, one must acknowledge that he is a sinner and that he is in need of God's mercy. In this context, Saint John the Theologian says, " If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:8-9). Cyprian comments on this saying by affirming that the faithfuls' minds must continue to realize these sins, lest one become pleased with himself and indulge in self-flattery.

The tradition of the Church affirms that the Lord's Prayer is useless if the one praying it does not intend to forgive those who have done him wrong. Some saints have even gone so far as to say that it is better for one not to pray the Lord's Prayer if he lacks forgiveness within himself. How can one praying say "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us" and then violate this rule by not forgiving those who ask him for forgiveness? He must forgive if he wants God to pardon the sins and iniquities he has committed.

"Nothing makes us resemble God apart from our readiness to pardon the wicked and the unjust," says Saint John Chrysostom (d. 407), that is, it is for God alone to forgive sins. So if Christ's teachings to His followers is the ideal path for a person to actually become in the image and likeness of God, then He must do what God does. There is nothing that makes someone resemble God more than forgiving those who do him wrong. Then Chrysostom warns of the consequences of not forgiving and says, "How severe is the punishment deserved by those who, after everything, do not forgive but rather beg God for vengeance against their enemies!"

The tradition of the Church is unanimous in saying that the purpose of Christ's becoming man is for man to become god by grace, after God having become man. So there is nothing that man must do other than imitate Christ who forgave those who beat, crucified and mocked Him. The coming fast is an opportunity we should seize, so let us practice humility, repentance, love and forgiveness. These four pillars cannot stand one without the others and if one of them falls, they all fall.

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