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. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! Fr. Stavros has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
THE GREAT COMMANDMENTS: WHERE DO YOU STAND?
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself. Luke 10:27
Then Peter came up and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.” Matthew 18: 21-23
Good morning Prayer Team!
In Psalm 130:3 we read “If Thou, O Lord, shouldst mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand?” Any relationship of any duration is going to include plenty of mistakes. Perhaps there is a mistake free day, or even a mistake free month, but in any relationship of any considerable length, there is going to be mistakes.
We have the concept of forgiveness all wrong these days it seems. When someone does something wrong, most often they say something like “I’m sorry, BUT I had a reason” and then try to mitigate their circumstances so that they look justified in what they’ve done. And the response most often when someone asks for forgiveness is “I forgive, but I won’t forget,” or even worse, “You’ll be hearing from my lawyer.”
We don’t forgive appropriately because we’ve lost our sense of trust. People who have done something wrong are afraid to admit it, because they are afraid of being sued or fired, they think they will be perceived as weak, they don’t trust that they will actually be forgiven. In many instances, we’ve lost sense of right and wrong and so fail to recognize when we have done wrong.
People who have been wronged often don’t trust the one asking for forgiveness is actually sorry. If there is a way to get “damages” out of someone, we are very quick to bring a lawsuit. And when someone has wronged us, it is seen as beneficial to “hold something over someone” rather than forgive them because having something over someone can potentially help us when we do wrong.
There is no way I could have lasted nearly twenty years as a priest, and over twenty years being married, let alone have any close friends without forgiveness. If I commit one sin a week in my ministry, that is nearly 1,000 sins. If I do one thing wrong in my marriage, that is well over 1,000 sins. If I was carrying around these slates of sins, I would have failed at both. The only way to have a successful relationship with others is through forgiveness.
There is a difference between saying “I’m sorry” and saying “Forgive me.” If you say “Please forgive me,” you are drawing someone else closer to you. You are inviting them into a dialogue. You are asking for a response to your request. If someone asks for forgiveness, it demands that we evaluate and work towards that end. There are different meanings to the phrase “I’m sorry.” “I’m sorry” can mean “I’m sorry that I got caught” or “I’m sorry that you’re mad,” without meaning “I’m sorry that I hurt you.” “Please forgive me” acknowledges that a relationship has been damaged and draws in the other person, the offended party, to try to reconcile and rebuild. Hearing the words “I’m sorry” can elicit a “whatever,” or “no big deal” response. Hearing the words “forgive me” calls us to forgive, to say the words, to offer the act of forgiveness.
We’re not talking about forgiving strangers for doing terrible things. If your car gets smashed by a drunk driver, you aren’t obligated to be his or her best friend. To forgive in this context means to still root for someone else’s salvation, even someone who has harmed you. The kind of forgiveness I’m talking about today is the forgiveness needed in order to sustain close friendships and marriages over the long haul.
Asking God for forgiveness is also supposed to be part of our regular Christian life. With the Lord, we don’t have to worry about Him forgiving or holding grudges. He readily forgives us. The Bible is filled with phrases like “There is more joy in heaven of one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine who righteous persons who need no repentance.” (Luke 15:7) We just have to be honest in our asking, and sincere in our repentance, in our desire to change.
Start using the word “forgive” in your relationships. Learn how to say “forgive me” and learn how to say “I forgive you.” Forgiveness is an extremely important concept that many of us have forgotten how to do. If the Lord is easy to forgive and easy to entreat, we must be so as well. And if we pray to the Lord to forgive us as we forgive one another, then our forgiving of one another assures us that He forgives us when we sin against Him.
Forgiveness (from a spiritual perspective)—On a scale of 1 to 10, how do you rank yourself on the following questions: Do I hold a grudge against God for things that haven’t gone well in my life? Have I asked God to forgive my shortcomings? Have I made a sincere effort to repent and change my bad habits? Do I easily forgive others?
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Write down some bad habits that you’d like to change. Ask for God’s help to bring forgiveness into relationships where that is needed. Ask for God’s help to let go about past failings, and to soften grudges you hold against other people.
Forgiveness (from a relationship perspective)—Do I forgive or hold grudges? Do I ask for forgiveness when I’m wrong or try to mitigate what I’ve done?
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Talk to your close friends (or spouse) about strategies to apologize and forgive when things go wrong. Have this conversation when you are not mad, anticipating the day when one of you will disappoint the other. Make “rules” on how to ask for forgiveness and how to extend forgiveness and then you are more prepared for the next time there is a disappointment.
Lord, thank You for giving us the example of forgiveness when You forgave those who were crucifying You. Thank You for forgiving my sins each time I ask. Give me the courage to own up to You and to others for my shortcomings. Speak good things into the hearts of my friends so that they forgive easily. Soften my heart that I may forgive easily. Amen.
When you do something wrong, own it. When someone asks you for forgiveness, offer it, and say the words “I forgive you.”
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Photo Credit: Jessica Key; Greater Good
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