What is forgiveness in Orthodoxy?

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Richard Hutnik

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Oct 6, 2003, 9:43:09 PM10/6/03
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I am trying to understand what forgiveness is in Orthodoxy. In the
West, it represents a pile of things you are in debt to God for that
gets cleared. I believe Catholicism has the concept of penance which
helps in the mortal sin and ledger side. Purgatory clears up the rest
before heaven. The mass also plays a role in this also. In
Protestantism, the blood of Christ covers all this, so this whole
concept.

But, what is it in the East? I am confused. I went to Education day
at St. Vladimir's and this issue didn't get answered consistently or
clearly. And the blood of Christ in the context of forgiveness seemed
to be unclear.

Thanks....
- Richard Hutnik

nicknospamcobb

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Oct 6, 2003, 10:22:58 PM10/6/03
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Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann

Forgiveness

A Homily delivered to the community at St. Vladimir's Orthodox Seminary

on Forgiveness Sunday of 1983

As once more we are about to enter the Great Lent, I would like to
remind us myself first of all, and all of you my fathers, brothers,
and sisters of the verse that we just sang, one of the stichera, and
that verse says: "Let us begin Lent, the Fast, with joy."

Only yesterday we were commemorating Adam crying, lamenting at the gates
of Paradise, and now every second line of the Triodion and the
liturgical books of Great Lent will speak of repentance, acknowledging
what dark and helpless lives we live, in which we sometimes are
immersed. And yet, no one will prove to me that the general tonality of
Great Lent is not that of a tremendous joy! Not what we call "joy" in
this world not just something entertaining, interesting, or amusing
but the deepest definition of joy, that joy of which Christ says: "no
one will take away from you" (Jn. 16:22). Why joy? What is that joy?

So many people under various influences have come to think of Lent as a
kind of self inflicted inconvenience. Very often in Lent we hear these
conversations: "What do you give up for Lent?" it goes from candy to,
I don t know what. There is the idea that if we suffer enough, if we
feel the hunger enough, if we try by all kinds of strong or light
ascetical tools, mainly to "suffer" and be "tortured," so to speak, it
would help us to "pay" for our absolution. But this is not our Orthodox
faith. Lent is not a punishment. Lent is not a kind of painful medicine
that helps only inasmuch as it is painful.

LENT IS A GIFT! Lent is a gift from God to us, a gift which is
admirable, marvelous, one that we desire. Now a gift of what? I would
say that it is a gift of the essential that which is essential and yet
which suffers most in our life because we are living lives of confusion
and fragmentation, lives which constantly conceal from us the eternal,
the glorious, the divine meaning of life and take away from us that
which should "push" and, thus, correct and fill our life with joy. And
this essential is thanksgiving: the acceptance from God of that
wonderful life, as St. Peter says, "...created out of nothing...,"
created exclusively by the love of God, for there is no other reason for
us to exist; loved by Him even before we were born, we were taken into
His marvelous light. Now we live and we forget. When was the last time I
thought about it? But I do not forget so many little things and affairs
that transform my whole life into empty noise, into a kind of traveling
without knowing where.

Lent returns to me, gives back to me, this essential the essential
layer of life. Essential because it is coming from God; essential
because it is revealing God. The essential time, because time again is a
great, great area of sin. Because time is the time of what? Of
priorities. And how often our priorities are not at all as they should
be. Yet in Lent, waiting, listening, singing ... you will see, little by
little that time broken, deviated, taking us to death and nowhere
else, without any meaning. You will see that time again becomes
expectation, becomes something precious. You wouldn t take one minute of
it away from its purpose of pleasing God, of accepting from Him Hislife
and returning that life to Him together with our gratitude, our wisdom,
our joy, our fulfillment.

After this essential time comes the essential relationship that we have
with everything in the world, a relationship which is expressed so well
in our liturgical texts by the word reverence. So often, everything
becomes for us an object of "utilizing," something which is "for grabs,"
something which "belongs" to me and to which I have a "right."
Everything should be as Communion in my hands. This is the reverence of
which I speak. It is the discovery that God, as Pasternak once said, was
"...a great God of details," and that nothing in this world is outside
of that divine reverence. God is reverent, but we so often are not.

So, we have the essential time, the essential relationship with matter
filled with reverence, and last, but not least, the rediscovery of the
essential link among ourselves: the rediscovery that we belong to each
other, the rediscovery, that no one has entered my life or your life
without the will of God. And with that rediscovery, there is everywhere
an appeal, an offering to do something for God: to help, to comfort, to
transform, to take with you, with each one of you, that brother and
sister of Christ. This is that essential relationship.

Essential time, essential matter, essential thought: all that is so
different from what the world offers us. In the world everything is
accidental. If you don t know how to "kill" time, our society is
absolutely ingenious in helping you to do that. We kill time, we kill
reverence, we transform communications, relationships, words, divine
words into jokes and blasphemies, and sometimes just pure nonsense.
There is this thirst and hunger for nothing, but external success.

Don t we understand, don t we understand, brothers and sisters what
power is given to us in the form of Lent. Lenten Spring! Lenten
beginning! Lenten resurrection! And all this is given to us free. Come,
listen to that prayer. Make it yours! Don t even try to think on your
own; just join, just enter and rejoice! And that joy will start killing
those old and painful and boring sins... And with that you will have
that great joy which the angels heard, which the disciples experienced
when they returned to Jerusalem after Christ s Ascension. It is that joy
which was left with them that we nobly adopted. It is first of all the
joy of knowing, the joy of having something in me which, whether I want
it or not, will start transforming life in me and around me.

This last essential is the essential return to each other: this is where
we begin tonight. This is what we are doing right now. For if we would
think of the real sins we have committed, we would say that one of the
most important is exactly the style and tonality which we maintain with
each other: our complaining and criticizing. I don t think that there
are cases of great and destructive hatred or assassination, or something
similar. It is just that we exist as if we are completely out of each
other s life, out of each other s interests, out of each other s love.
Without having repaired this relationship, there is no possibility of
entering into Lent. Sin whether we call it "original" sin or
"primordial" sin has broken the unity of life in this world, it has
broken time, and time has become that fragmented current which takes us
into old age and death. It has broken our social relations, it has
broken families. Everything is diabolos divided and destroyed. But
Christ has come into the world and said: "... and I, when I am lifted up
from the earth, will draw all men to Myself" (Jn. 12:32).

It is impossible to go to Christ without taking with me the essential.
It is not the abandonment of everything as we go to Christ; it is
finding in Him the power of that resurrection: of unity, of love, of
trust, of joy, of all that which, even if it occupies some place in our
life, is at the same time so minuscule. It is tragic to think that from
churches, from seminaries, what comes to heaven are complaints ... being
tired, always something not going right... You know, sitting in my
office from time to time, I am admiring people for inventing new
"tragedies" every half hour.

But we are Christ s and Christ is God s. And if we had because we know
just a little bit of that which would bring us together, we would
replace all my little offenses with even a little amount of that joy.
That is the forgiveness we want and ask God to give us. Because if there
is a strict commandment in the Gospel, it is that commandment: "if you
forgive ... your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do
not forgive ... neither will your Father forgive ... " (Mt. 6:14-15).
So, of course it is a necessity. But the NOW of that, I repeat it once
more, is to be horrified by the fragmentation of our own existence, by
the pettiness in our relationships, by the destruction of words, and by
the abandoning of this reverence.

Now we have to forgive each other whether or not we have any explicit
sins or crimes against each other. That reconciliation is another
epiphany of the Church as the Kingdom of God. We are saved because we
are in the Body of Christ. We are saved because we accept from Christ
the world and the essential order. And finally, we accept Christ when we
accept each other. Everything else is a lie and hypocrisy.

So, fathers, brothers, sisters: let us forgive one another. Let us not
think about why. There is enough to think about. Let us do it. Right
now, in a kind of deep breath, say: "Lord, help us to forgive. Lord,
renew all these relationships." What a chance is given here for love to
triumph! for unity to reflect the Divine unity, and for everything
essential to return as life itself. What a chance! Is the answer we give
today yes or no? Are we going to that forgiveness? Are we gladly
accepting it? Or is it something which we do just because it is on the
calendar today, you follow, forgiveness; tomorrow, let s do...? No!
this is the crucial moment. This is the beginning of Lent. This is our
spring "repair" because reconciliation is the powerful renewal of the ruin.

So, please, for the sake of Christ: let us forgive each other. The first
thing I am asking all of you, my spiritual family, is to forgive me.
Imagine how many temptations of laziness, of avoiding too much, and so
on and so forth. What a constant defense of my own interests, health, or
this or that... I know that I don t even have an ounce of this
self-giving, self-sacrifice which is truly a true repentance, the true
renewal of love.

Please forgive me and pray for me, so that what I am preaching I could
first of all somehow, be it only a little bit, integrate and incarnate
in my life.

Father Alexander Schmemann

Delivered on Forgiveness Sunday, March 20, 1983, at St. Vladimir s
Orthodox Theological Seminary Chapel, before the Rite of Forgiveness.
Transcribed from tape recording and edited. Published with the approval
of Juliana Schmemann in the St. Vladimir s Theological Foundation
Newsletter.

nicknospamcobb

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Oct 6, 2003, 10:44:34 PM10/6/03
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Fr. Alexander died of cancer on Dec. 13, 1983.

nicknospamcobb

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Oct 6, 2003, 11:27:08 PM10/6/03
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Luke 6:37-38


37: "Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will
not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven;
38: give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down,
shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For the
measure you give will be the measure you get back."

Steve Hayes

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Oct 7, 2003, 2:26:05 AM10/7/03
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On 6 Oct 2003 18:43:09 -0700, richar...@hotmail.com (Richard Hutnik)
wrote:

Forgive us our tresp[asses as we forgive those who trespass against us.


--
The unworthy servant of God,
Stephen Methodius Hayes
Web: http://www.geocities.com/Athens/7734/stevesig.htm
Orthodox mission pages: http://www.orthodoxy.faithweb.com/

AGG

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Oct 7, 2003, 7:39:24 AM10/7/03
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nicknospamcobb <nickn...@cris.com> wrote in message news:<goqgb.11011$2P....@newssvr32.news.prodigy.com>...


***Good advice, even for Jew-hating, Bush-hating liberal leftists!!!

Richard Hutnik

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Oct 7, 2003, 8:20:29 AM10/7/03
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nicknospamcobb <nickn...@cris.com> wrote in message news:<6spgb.10674$%F.7...@newssvr32.news.prodigy.com>...

> Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann
>
> Forgiveness
>
> A Homily delivered to the community at St. Vladimir's Orthodox Seminary
>
> on Forgiveness Sunday of 1983

... SNIP ...

> So, fathers, brothers, sisters: let us forgive one another. Let us not
> think about why. There is enough to think about. Let us do it. Right
> now, in a kind of deep breath, say: "Lord, help us to forgive. Lord,
> renew all these relationships." What a chance is given here for love to
> triumph! for unity to reflect the Divine unity, and for everything
> essential to return as life itself. What a chance! Is the answer we give
> today yes or no? Are we going to that forgiveness? Are we gladly
> accepting it? Or is it something which we do just because it is on the
> calendar today, you follow, forgiveness; tomorrow, let s do...? No!
> this is the crucial moment. This is the beginning of Lent. This is our
> spring "repair" because reconciliation is the powerful renewal of the ruin.

... SNIP ...

I didn't see any meaning or definition of forgiveness here. I am
seeing a lot of good things to do, but not forgiveness. I kept this
paragraph above, because I thought it was interesting. Don't think
about why? I appreciate Schmemman's work, but I just don't get this.

What does the Orthodox church believe people are forgiven of, and what
it means?

- Richard Hutnik

YoungBeliever

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Oct 7, 2003, 1:44:18 PM10/7/03
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Forgive me for any assumption on my part as to what will satisfy your
question.

"Richard Hutnik" <richar...@hotmail.com> wrote in message
news:37bc9e37.03100...@posting.google.com...


>
> I didn't see any meaning or definition of forgiveness here. I am
> seeing a lot of good things to do, but not forgiveness. I kept this
> paragraph above, because I thought it was interesting. Don't think
> about why? I appreciate Schmemman's work, but I just don't get this.
>
> What does the Orthodox church believe people are forgiven of, and what
> it means?
>
> - Richard Hutnik

Have you been to the Orthodox services during Lent or Holy Week? I think
that experience would be a great context for discovering the Orthodox
perspective on forgiveness.

The following is my understanding of some aspects of Orthodox teaching about
forgiveness. Please, any others more experienced and learned correct my
errors.

First, God does not and has never had a literal ledger of sins which He must
forgive before accepting or loving anyone. We need to experience
forgiveness from God, but He does not need to forgive us. Like a parent
waiting for a child to confess the truth and abandon their lie, so does God
patiently wait for us to repent before Him. He already knows all our sin
before we do, and like the parent, knows the child needs to seek and
experience forgiveness to be made whole.

God is an awesome, consuming fire. Wood, hay and stuble will be utterly
consumed and destroyed in His presence. If you stick your hand in a fire,
and are burned, is it because the fire has not forgiven you? Does the fire
burn because it is punishing you? No. The fire burns you, or wood etc,
because of the nature of the fire and what has entered it.

Please, I am not trying to paint God as some mindless force, and I
understand my analogy is imperfect, but it is my best effort to answer your
question. All analogies and metaphors fall short, especially mine or what I
have borrowed from others who have taught me.

But gold, silver, and precious stones will be refined by fire, not consumed.
As we experience forgiveness, our soul, our nature, and ultimately our
resurrected bodies are purified and refined like gold. We are healed, the
wood hay and stuble is burned away, and only that which will survive the
real, close presence of God remains.

So why do we ask for forgiveness? Why do we have confession? These are
part of our salvation, the cleansing, the purification and refining. It is
for our sake, for our healing, not to pacify God's anger or satisfy some
charge He holds against us.

Herein lies the dividing line and real schism between eastern and western
tradition in thes matters. Have you read "River of Fire"? I think it is
rather harsh and blunt, but worthwhile if you are sincerely seeking an
answer. I must confess, the first time I read it, I thought it was crazy,
but now I rejoice not only in the "good news", but also the "even better
news".

the sinner
-Patrick


Steve Nichols

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Oct 7, 2003, 2:25:00 PM10/7/03
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I think that's a good post, Young'n...

"YoungBeliever" <nos...@please.net> wrote:

>So why do we ask for forgiveness? Why do we have confession? These are
>part of our salvation, the cleansing, the purification and refining. It is
>for our sake, for our healing, not to pacify God's anger or satisfy some
>charge He holds against us.

That's the key, I'd say; God's forgiveness is theraputic for us.

First, it sets an example for us, as we ask Him to forgive us as we
forgive others (as Steve Hayes pointed out). When we ask this, we
become encouraged to forgive others, eh? And... such forgiveness is
good for US... when we act, and don't just proclaim, that love is
greater than the law.

Isn't that what forgiveness is? Putting love ahead of the law?

Also, one of our own illnesses of the soul is guilt which we carry
around. God's forgiveness lifts this guilt off our shoulders, helping
to heal us. The following snippet, by Fr. Paul O'Callaghan (Antiochian
Orthodox) is taken from
http://www.stgeorgecathedral.net/article_1102.html ....
--------------------------------------------
Let’s look at the problem of guilt in the light of the power of the
cross. Have you, at any time of your life, been plagued with guilt over
something? You are not alone.

Guilt is a central problem of mankind. Think for a moment of the
millions of animals, and the thousands upon thousands of human beings
that have been sacrificed over the centuries to compensate for the guilt
of mankind, to placate the gods and earn forgiveness. The Catholic
theologian Karl Rahner described man as “a being threatened radically by
guilt.”

There is only one answer to the problem of guilt: the cross – the one
sacrifice that has been made once and for all. The guilt we bear for our
sins was taken care of – overcome by the power of God – when Jesus took
upon himself for us on the cross. So the cross shows us that the power
of God is revealed in the love of God sending his Son to die for us.

If we know Christ, there is no reason to live in a state of guilt. As
the Paschal sermon of John Chrysostom puts it so well, “forgiveness has
risen from the grave.” If we continue to live with guilt, there is a
problem somewhere. Either there is an unwillingness to let ourselves off
the hook for something we’ve done, (God forgives us, but we won’t
forgive ourselves); or we blame ourselves for something for which we
were not responsible, (the classic example is children blaming
themselves for their parents’ divorce); or perhaps we really have not
repented of something we need to repent of, and so we continue to live
in sin and thus continue to feel guilty.

The forgiveness of sins the consequent liberation from guilt is one of
the most basic factors in the healing and restoration of our fallen
human nature and the salvation of our souls. We can’t do without it.
It’s essential. There is no reason that a Christian should live in
bondage to guilt.

May the power of God revealed in his perfect and all-consuming sacrifice
of the cross set you free from every burden of guilt, that you may raise
your eyes to heaven and glorify the God of love.
--------------------------------------------

I hope this helps a bit, /Steven

Dana Netherton

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Oct 8, 2003, 2:40:20 PM10/8/03
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On 6 Oct 2003 18:43:09 -0700, in article
<37bc9e37.03100...@posting.google.com>,
richar...@hotmail.com said...

Richard,

Rather than give a formal definition, which could be subjected to word-
wrangling, I'll give an example of what we view as "forgiveness": the
parable of the Prodigal Son, in Luke's Gospel.

When the son returned, what did the father do?

He forgave his son. Immediately, completely, and joyfully.

Why?

Because he loved him, and was delighted to discover that his son had
repented.

No ledger, no "penance" or purgation needed. In fact, the father was
running to his son before the son had finished saying the eloquent little
speech he had prepared.

Likewise, for us the blood of Christ has nothing to do with a "payment"
for a debt. Rather, it signifies the enormous measures God took in order
to make His way into that prison of souls (Hades) and then to bust it
wide open, thereby freeing our ancestors and ourselves from our ancient
captivity to it, forever.

So it reminds us of the enormous measure of God's love ... and it reminds
us that He yearns to see us put ourselves in a position where He can
forgive us.

Just as the father, in the parable, yearned to see his prodigal son put
*himself* in a position where the father could forgive him.

--
(Mr) Dana Netherton
Default address is a spam dump. Use it, and
I'll never see it. To reach me, e-mail:
dana 1 netherton 2 net, where "1" = at, and "2" = dot
--------
I don't belong to an organized religion.
I'm Eastern Orthodox.

digimortal

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Oct 8, 2003, 6:22:08 PM10/8/03
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Then why, as Al has said they do, do priests practice penance????? Also, I
do think that the Church DOES understand His sacrifice as a substitute for
us.

"Dana Netherton" <u...@ftc.gov> wrote

AGG

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Oct 9, 2003, 7:54:31 AM10/9/03
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Ask your priest, Digi? How did you ever become Orthodox without
learning about penance and why it is sometimes necessary?

Also, I only said that priests practice penance by posting articles
from well respected Orthodox sources which tell us that penance is a
common practice in Orthodoxy.

Heck, as penance I once was required by my OCA priest to read the
entire Book of Job!

Al

"digimortal" <digim...@starpower.net> wrote in message news:<bm226t$30i$1...@bob.news.rcn.net>...

Richard Hutnik

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Oct 9, 2003, 9:32:09 AM10/9/03
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"digimortal" <digim...@starpower.net> wrote in message news:<bm226t$30i$1...@bob.news.rcn.net>...
> Then why, as Al has said they do, do priests practice penance????? Also, I
> do think that the Church DOES understand His sacrifice as a substitute for
> us.

My understanding is that the concept of penance in the east isn't
meant to pay for anything (penalty for wrong that balances the books),
but is theraputic, and when someone confesses, the priest will
prescribe certain things that helps the person overcome the sin.
Besides the fact that the person is reassured of their relationship
being ok with God again.

Actually I believe this understanding of confession came about from
the Celtic Christians, as a replacement for confessing in front of the
whole Church, and having the bishop let you back in and receive
communion once for.

I don't think Christ as a substitution is part of the East. Again, I
am trying to understand this.

- Richard Hutnik

T254

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Oct 9, 2003, 3:29:17 PM10/9/03
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>Heck, as penance I once was required by my OCA priest to read the
>entire Book of Job!

Now why doesn't that surprise me?

One of my Godchildren (an 83 fiestly former Irish RC with a mouth like a truck
driver when he gets mad) had to recite the 51st Psalm four times a day all
during Great Lent. I won't say anything more than he got mad at the priest.
Today they remain the best of friends. And I think my Godson could probably
recite the 51 Psalm backwards if need be. He's had to say it so many times!

Bob


Bob Tallick

digimortal

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Oct 9, 2003, 6:40:15 PM10/9/03
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I didn't become...I was born into it.

"AGG" <canonical_o...@yahoo.com> wrote in message
news:14fcd270.03100...@posting.google.com...

++

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Oct 9, 2003, 6:34:06 PM10/9/03
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Dear RIchard,

We also have general confession (everyone together) and forgiveness Sunday where we confess sins
against others to them

Dana Netherton

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Oct 11, 2003, 3:04:18 AM10/11/03
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On Thu, 09 Oct 2003 18:34:06 -0400, in article
<3F85E25E...@erols.com>, arch...@erols.com said...

> Dear RIchard,
>
> We also have general confession (everyone together) and forgiveness Sunday where we
> confess sins against others to them

But we don't necessarily get specific on Forgiveness Sunday. In my
(GOA) parish, it's just "please forgive me", to each person at the
Vespers Service that night, as you go down the row.

-- Dana Netherton

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