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 18:21-22

But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon those who fear Him, and His righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep His covenant and remember to do His commandments.

Psalm 103:17-18

The biggest weight I carry in my soul is the weight of past failure. Whether I failed another person or failed myself, in either case I have failed God. As we get older, the resume of our successes gets longer and so does the list of our failures. On the day of my ordination, I had not failed any parishioner. I had never had a parishioner up to that point. Now twenty-six years in, I have failed many parishioners. I have burned friendships, there are people who dislike me, people who avoid me, people I dislike and people who I avoid. I suppose there are a lot of people in the secular world who don’t care what others think of them. Politicians on both sides come to mind. But this isn’t about what others think of themselves. It’s about what we think of ourselves.

The greatest weight we carry cannot be quantified on a scale. This is not weight we can remove with exercise. The greatest weight we carry is the burden of sin and shame. And the most effective way to lose that weight is through a beautiful thing called forgiveness.

Frederick Buechner, a well-known author and Presbyterian minister, offered one of the best quotes on forgiveness that I have ever read:

When somebody you’ve wronged forgives you, you’re spared the dull and self-diminishing throb of a guilty conscience. When you forgive somebody who has wronged you, you’re spared the dismal corrosion of bitterness and wounded pride. For both parties, forgiveness means the freedom again to be at peace inside their own skins and to be glad in each other’s presence.

The opposite of this quote holds true as well. When we have wronged someone and are unforgiven, there is a dull and self-diminishing throb of shame and sadness, and for some, a guilty conscience. When we are unable to forgive someone, it corrodes our own souls. Lack of forgiveness diminishes, and often extinguishes relationships.

Forgiveness doesn’t necessarily mean we have to trust someone again, or confide in someone, or even be friends with them. However, in relationships that matter, in marriages, in families, in close friendships and in work environments, forgiveness is essential. I have served in my parish for twenty years. There have been hundreds of families that have belonged to this parish during my time here. If I wronged each family one time per year for twenty years, that would add up to an astronomical amount of sins, thousands upon thousands of them. One sin against each of one thousand parishioners times twenty years would be twenty thousand sins. The weight of that, without forgiveness, would be crushing. The shame of all that sin would be unbearable. There is no way I would make it in a parish for any amount of time without forgiveness.

Let’s talk for a moment about the relationships that have been severed by sin. Some of those are unredeemable. To release someone from the burden of sin actually gives you freedom. Some of these relationships probably are redeemable but stubborn pride on both sides has put a wall there. A gesture of forgiveness by one party might salvage something good that was lost.

In relationships that matter, forgiveness is what allows them to continue. Take a marriage of 25 years. If each spouse sins once a week against the other—an unkind word, a moment of anger, common things—52 weeks a year times 25 years, that’s 1,300 sins. And that’s if there is only ONE sin a week. No relationship would hold up under the weight of that much sin. That’s why it is essential to forgive as we go, to learn from mistakes, but to release one another from the weight of sin and failure.

Forgiveness and repentance work hand in hand. Forgiveness involves asking someone to overlook a mistake, and overlooking someone else’s mistake. Repentance means working hard to make sure the mistake doesn’t happen again, even though it often does. Thus, we are continually in need of this cycle of forgiveness and repentance, whether it is with another person or with God. This cycle is not just done one time.

I want to share three quotes from Scripture on forgiveness. The first is Psalm 130:3-4: If Thou, O Lord, shouldst mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with Thee. Every time we sin against someone, we are sinning against God. If I have committed one sin a week against my wife, one sin a week against my son, and one sin a year against every parishioner—perhaps that is a manageable number of sins against people, but the total number of sins against God would be enormous, even unquantifiable. If God marked our iniquities, no one could stand before Him. Just like if we mark every iniquity against one another, we’d have no relationships.

Second, we read in Psalm 103:17-18, But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon those who fear Him, and His righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep His covenant and remember to do His commandments. This means that the mercy of God is without ending. His capacity to forgive is never exceeded by our sins that need forgiveness.

Third, in Matthew 18:21-22, Peter asked Jesus, in regards to forgiveness, “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.” That’s a lot of forgiveness, nearly five hundred times. Seven is seen as a number of completion in the Bible, and seventy times what is complete is basically an infinite number. If God has an infinite capacity to forgive, He is telling us that we should have an infinite capacity to forgive as well.

There is a difference between saying “I’m sorry” and “forgive me.” It’s like the difference between saying “I’m a little short on money” and “Can I have ten dollars?” If someone says “I’m a little short on money,” the other person might just shrug their shoulders. But when a person asks “Can I have $10,” it forces the other one to participate with an answer, either “Yes, you can” or “No, you can’t.” “I’m sorry” might result in a shoulder shrug or a “Don’t worry about it” response. Asking for forgiveness, actually saying the words “Can you forgive me?” requires the other person to answer “Yes, I forgive you,” or “No, but here’s the path to forgiveness.” (And hopefully there is one, notice I said forgiveness, not restoration necessarily. Of course in relationships that matter, forgiveness needs to mean restoration.)

There is a gesture in the Divine Liturgy, which was part of the ancient church but in modern days is restricted only to the clergy when multiple priests are celebrating, and that is the kiss of peace. Part of this gesture is that each priest grabs the hand of the other and kisses it, which requires both to bow to the other at the same time. Metaphorically speaking, this is how forgiveness ideally happens, when two people bow to the other at the same time. Imagine in a marriage, or with a child, or with a close friend, if periodically you paused and bowed to the other and kissed their hand, asking for forgiveness. Imagine if you did it at the same time.

Have mercy on me, O God. Have mercy on me.
Where shall I begin to weep for the actions of my wretched life? What first-fruit shall I offer, O Christ, in this my lamentation? But in Your compassion grant me forgiveness of sins. (Canon of St. Andrew, Ode One, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)

We all have the need to be forgiven. We all have the capacity to forgive.


Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis

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 multiple books, you can view here:


Leave a Reply

Avatar placeholder