Fr. Luke A. Veronis serves as the Director for the Missions Institute of Orthodox Christianity at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, pastors Sts Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church in Webster, MA, and teaches as an Adjunct Instructor at both Holy Cross and Hellenic College. He also taught at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary (2005-2008). Fr. Luke has been involved in the Orthodox Church’s missionary movement since 1987. Together with his family, he served as a long-term cross-cultural missionary in Albania more than 10 years (1994-2004), and as a short-term missionary in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Ghana for 18 months (1987-91). Since 2010, he teaches a summer missions class which he takes to Albania for two weeks every year. He has led four mission teams from his church to build homes for the desperately poor through Project Mexico. His published books include Go Forth: A Journal of Missions and Resurrection in Albania (2010); Lynette’s Hope: The Witness of Lynette Katherine Hoppe’s Life and Death (2008); and Missionaries, Monks, and Martyrs: Making Disciples of All Nations (1994). Fr. Luke teaches the Preaching course at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, as well as numerous classes in Missiology and World Religions. His weekly sermons since January 2013 can be found at http://www.schwebster.org/sermons/ Fr. Luke is married to Presbytera Faith Veronis, and they have four children.
It truly is divine to forgive someone who has hurt us, yet how so difficult! The most frequent sin and struggle I hear in any confession or counseling I offer, is the inability of others to forgive those who have hurt them. And obviously, the more serious the hurt, the harder one finds it to forgive. Our Christian faith, however, centers on the spirit of love and forgiveness. I can’t exaggerate the variety of ways our Lord Jesus taught the utmost significance of “loving mercy” and “forgiveness” as indispensable characteristics in the lives of His followers. In the Gospels we hear it over and over again: “Turn the other cheek. Love one another as I have loved you. Forgive even up to seven times seventy. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. Love your enemy. If you do not forgive others their trespasses, than neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
Of course, the epitome of forgiveness and love is our Lord willingly dying on the Cross for the sins of a fallen world, and then as he suffered on the Cross crying out, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do.” Precisely this spirit of forgiveness we see again and again in the lives of the saints, as they suffered terribly from injustice, hatred, anger and persecution. St. Stephen could look at his murderers with a peaceful countenance and could say, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” St. John the beloved disciple writes while in exile, “If someone says, ‘I love God’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?”
Well, few people will argue with me about the importance of forgiving and loving one another, and how these virtues stand at the center of our Orthodox Christian faith. The difficulty, of course, lies in each of our own particular cases – when someone has specifically betrayed us, hurt us, maliciously lied to us, or done some evil to us. When I was in Greece with Ionian Village, we had the special blessing of going to see the incorrupt body of St. Dionysios on the island of Zakynthos. One particular story of St. Dionysios touched all of us. It occurred when a man frantically banged on the monastery doors and met St. Dionysios. The man told the abbot that he needed to confess something. He then went on to confess that he had just killed a man, and as it turned out, the very man he killed happened to be St. Dionysios’ own brother!!! Well, St. Dionysios listened to the confession, read the prayer of absolution over the murderer, and then told him to stay in the monastery. When the villagers came banging on the monastery doors, they asked St. Dionysios if he happened so see the murderer, and even told him what the murderer had done to his brother. St. Dionysios said that he had not seen the man, and then sent the villagers on their way. He then provided for the murderer to sail off the island and go away. Imagine, he forgave and even protected his brother’s murderer!!! Years, later, the murderer would return to the monastery and become a monk under St. Dionysios.
This is the power of forgiveness, and it is precisely what the story of the Gospel Reading of the Unforgiving Servant (Matthew 18:23-35) so graphically described. A king forgives a servant an unbelievable debt that would have been impossible to repay, only to watch this same servant show no mercy towards his fellow servant who owed him a small amount. “How can you be so unforgiving and unmerciful,” the king said to his servant, “when I have shown you such great mercy!”
These are God’s words to us – “How can we be so unforgiving and unmerciful, when God has shown us such great mercy!” These words alone should compel us to forgive those who have hurt us. When we base our forgiving others on the mercy God has shown us, we should realize we do not forgive others because they deserve our mercy. We forgive others because God has first forgiven us!
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