Inspired by today’s reading of the Holy Gospel, I would like us to talk about a certain disease, a dangerous and destructive disease, which is in its essence deeply un-Christian. Sadly, hardly anyone is immune to this disease today. This is the disease of not forgiving, the illness of judging and condemnation. The root of this disease is another illness which is the worst and most dangerous illness of the soul – the mortal sin of pride. Pride is the cause of many other illnesses, it feeds them and encourages their growth.
The amount of intolerance, exclusion and hatred that exists in our community is rarely found anywhere else. If this were not a civilized country, we would have staged something akin to Beirut here amongst ourselves. A look, a frown, the mildest of criticisms – all of these can result in hatred that lasts until the offender’s, or the offendee’s dying breath. If I were to ask some of my feuding parishioners the reason for their blood feud, I am sure that most of them would not be able to give me an answer. They probably would not be able to remember the cause of their mutual anger. The cause of hatred has most likely faded away, and pride alone remains. “Who does he think he is, telling me what to do and looking at me like that!” In other words, no one is above me in this whole world, no one that can challenge my intellect and my capability.” And so it goes on.
\We ought to sober up and realize how detrimental and dangerous this is for the soul now, while we are still in this life, rather than realizing it on the day that we stand before the only Righteous Judge. It will be too late then. We can already see just how much damage our mutual hatred has on our community, yet we do little to improve this. If we were united, we would be stronger and much more influential. Then all of our endeavors would be so much more successful.
Envy, evil and hatred make the soul unclean and they burden it to exhaustion. One feels laden with a heavy burden, his soul is oppressed and constricted. He falls asleep with this burden and awakens with it. He realizes how detrimental all this is to his peace of mind and mental stability, yet his pride does not allow him to forgive and to ask for forgiveness. St. Paul tells us not to let the sun go down on our anger, This means that if we have an argument with anyone, we must make up before the sun goes down that day. A wound heals faster while it is still fresh. It is the same with mental wounds. “This is why it is deadly to harbor the poison of anger in one’s heart,” writes St. John Cassian. “For as long as the demonic spirit of anger dwells in us we cannot be the temple of the Holy Spirit…. Whosoever has not made peace with his brother is offering to God no prayer, but an obstinate temper with a rebellious spirit… The peace in our hearts depends on us, not on others. Therefore the remedy against anger is our magnanimity and readiness to forgive.”
One must refrain from judging and condemning others. For who am I to judge an equal, or even one who is greater than myself, a brother or a sister? The judge is always above both the plaintiff and the defendant, in our case He who knows all and sees all.
When we gossip about others, when we judge, when we sow hatred, we usually notice that there is something akin to a heavy feeling on our conscience, like a bitter taste in our mouth. On the other hand, it feels like a weight has been lifted when we find the courage or the love to ask forgiveness from our brother, sister, mother, father or friend. It is as though a heavy weight is lifted from our shoulders, we walk upright and breathe more easily. Anyone who relishes his or her own stubbornness is terribly wrong. It is incomparably easier and nicer to ask for forgiveness or to forgive. It is both human and manly to do so, rather than feed the soul with cowardly evil and hatred.
Let us bear in mind, brothers and sisters, that everything else is in vain. All of our sacrifices and prayers are in vain if we harbor hatred in our hearts. The Lord commands us: “Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24) From this we can see, brothers and sisters, that God does not accept the prayers of those who are in a feud. It makes sense: we are the ones asking for mercy and forgiveness, but here we are, not showing any mercy nor forgiveness to others, just like the evil servant who we heard about in today’s reading of the Holy Gospel. “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.” (Mark 25:26)
Our Lord Jesus Christ has showed us the best example to follow, when from the Cross, in pain, He whispered, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34) So if He, the Creator, could forgive us men the crucifixion and all the humiliation He endured at our hands, how can we not forgive our brother or sister an inappropriate word, or an injustice that has been done to us?
Apostle Peter asked his Teacher how many times it is reasonable to forgive. “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” And the Lord answered him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18:2-22) In other words, we must forgive infinitely. This is the ideal towards which we must gravitate. Until such time as we can reach that ideal, let us work on lesser challenges.
If this sermon starts any of you thinking, if any of you finds the courage to stretch out a hand and forgive a brother or ask for forgiveness, then we have met our goal. As St. Paul says, “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32) Amen.