“For if ye forgive men their trespasses…”
The Lord said: “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15).
Great Lent is upon us: a time of strengthened prayer and repentance, during which time we must muster all our spiritual powers to seek forgiveness for our sins from God.
But in order to succeed in our repentance, we must first make peace with our neighbor.
What is the obvious sign of reconciliation? When we ask our neighbor for forgiveness. On Sunday before Great Lent, the Holy Church established the practice of asking forgiveness of each other. Simply put, it is called “Forgiveness Sunday.” Who should initiate the asking of forgiveness if one is openly hostile to another? One might say: the guilty party should seek forgiveness. The innocent party would agree with this, saying “He offended me, he started it all, so he must ask me for forgiveness. In my heart I forgive him, but I don’t see why I should seek his forgiveness.”
In every interpersonal conflict, even the law requires that one party be found guilty, and the other not guilty, by moral principle, or better yet, based on our spiritual attitude towards life, the innocent party is still to some degree guilty, too, because he could have made an errant step that came back like a boomerang and struck him with offense.
If we examine it from a psychological point of view, we see that if the innocent first asks forgiveness from the guilty party for the conflict, the guilty can be taken aback and hasten to make peace.
It is easier for the innocent to ask forgiveness, since the guilty is more prone to self-justification, to soften his own fault and appear to others as righteous.
That is why reconciliation does not require the initiative coming from only one party, the guilty or the innocent.
That is why the Lord says: “Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift” (Matthew 5:23-24).
For we are all guilty before God. Let us seek forgiveness, and thereby open the door for Divine mercy towards us. Is our personal pride more dear to us than God’s mercy? Let us ponder this question carefully. Amen.
March 1, 1981