Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015, has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany” and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.”
You shall not take vengeance or bear any grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. Leviticus 19:18
Good morning Prayer Team!
In many ways, we’ve forgotten how to forgive one another. When we’ve done something wrong, we are almost conditioned to offer a mitigating circumstance. We say “I’m sorry, but I had a reason,” instead of just owning it and saying “I’m sorry, please forgive me.”
And many times, the response to a request for forgiveness is “I forgive you but I don’t forget what you did.” And so that isn’t forgiveness at all. That’s called holding a grudge.
The correct way to exchange forgiveness is this “I’m sorry for what I did, please forgive me,” and the response is “I forgive you. Let’s try harder.”
Why is it that we’ve lost our ability to ask for forgiveness and to offer forgiveness? There are many reasons that have slowly crept into our society. In professional circles, owning up to something could get us fired, or sued, or get a paper in our personnel file. Because there is no trust that we’ll actually be forgiven, people fudge on asking for forgiveness. And because many people don’t take ownership of mistakes, or sincerely repent, there is no trust that they are actually sorry, and so people fudge on granting forgiveness.
So, do we have a forgiveness problem? Or a trust problem? Or a pride problem? Probably all three.
We all know the story of the fall of Adam. In Genesis 3:11-13, after Adam and Eve have eaten from the forbidden tree, God asks them:
Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent beguiled me, and I ate.”
Adam blames Eve, and Eve blames the serpent. No one take responsibility. No one asks God for forgiveness. I wonder what might have happened had they done that. It’s interesting how the Bible gives us an example of how NOT to own up for a wrong. But it gives us MANY more examples of how to ask forgiveness and seek restoration. I’m continually comforted by the fact that many of our greatest saints committed some of the biggest sins. Peter denied Christ. Paul was killing and persecuting early Christians. The centurion who presided over the Crucifixion eventually became a saint. And the repentant thief “stole Paradise” in his final breaths. But they all took responsibility, and they all repented, they all reoriented their lives to get them in step with Christ.
We’ve got to bring forgiveness back-we’ve got to learn to own up for problems, we’ve got to learn how to forgive and let go. How do we do that? Using the same mechanisms we use in confession. You know that when you come, what you confess will be forgiven by God and forgotten by Him. What is needed is total honesty on your part. We’ve got to create safety nets in relationships so that people can retract poorly worded statements, give one another “do-overs” sometimes, to stop and talk it through when you start going down the wrong path, to talk directly to the person who has wronged you without needing to gossip about it to other people, and most important, to speak the truth in love and to receive the truth in love.
And just like the church, in the sacrament of confession, gives the penitent the opportunity to “Have no further anxiety about the sins you have confess and depart in peace,” we should afford this opportunity to those around us.
As the saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Learning how to forgive and be forgiven is something that will take a lifetime to master, and yet, we can’t get into the kingdom of heaven without it.
Lord our God, thank You for the gift of this day. Thank You for the friends I have (list some of them). Help preserve our friendships by encouraging us to forgive one another. Help me learn how to forgive. Give me the courage to own up for my transgressions. Help me to see my own faults, to help me be patient with my brother who has wronged me, and for him to be patient when I have wronged him. Let truth be spoken in love. Thank You Lord for loving me, despite my many faults. Amen.
Have a great day!
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The Orthodox Christian Network (OCN) is an official agency of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops. OCN offers videos, podcasts, blogs and music, to enhance Orthodox Christian life. The Prayer Team is a daily devotion written by Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis, the parish priest at St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, Florida. Devotions include a verse from scripture, a commentary from Fr. Stavros, and a short prayer that he writes to match the topic.
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