Sunday of Forgiveness

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Christ is among us! [He is and ever shall be!]

I would like to thank all parishioners, visitors, travelers, and friends for joining us.

Today, is Forgiveness Sunday. And it is of no coincidence that it follows the Sunday of Last Judgment. The two are spiritually related. Having contemplated our last judgment, which we ought to pray and meditate on everyday, we now come to seeking that moment of forgiveness – the extension of our humility to each other, and more importantly to God.

This Sunday, I would like to quote from a book by Archimandrite Zacharias, a disciple of Fr. Sophrony, who was a disciple of St. Silouan. [Christ, Our Way, and Our Life]

There is a premise in the book which is known to us. We often look at life as a pyramid. Atop the pyramid is authority. And this authority directs the lowly – those beneath. The authority demands order, discipline, and unquestioned obedience. The fallacy in this approach, this paradigm of life, is that the authority is man, and man bears all of the frailties and weaknesses – the ego – of mankind.

“Fr. Sophrony [too] presents all human existence as built up like a pyramid. The hierarchical structure, with higher and lower orders of people, as well as all the divisions and inequalities within them . . . [but Fr. Sophrony states that such a paradigm, this pyramid with an upward apex] is a consequence of the Fall of the first humans. Those who are situated at the top of the pyramid ‘exercise authority’ and ‘lord it’ over those lower down [cf. Matt. 20: 25], and there is none of the fairness which the spirit of man, made in God’s image, demands.

“Christ, in order to heal all mankind, to break the deadlock of human injustice and to raise up high all those who are ‘of low degree’ upon earth, overturns this pyramid of human existence, placing the apex at the base, and thus ‘establishes the ultimate perfection’. The summit of the pyramid of being, now situated at the base, is of course Christ Himself, as the head of the body of the ‘new creation’ [cf. Gal. 6: 15].

“This concept of the upturned pyramid is inspired by Christ’s words: ‘The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto but to minister, and to give His life as a ransom for many’ [Matt. 20: 28]. He took upon Himself all the weight of the pyramid and as the Apostle says, ‘became a curse for our sake’ [cf. Gal. 3: 13]. God ‘for our sake made Him to be sin who knew no sin’ [2 Cor. 5: 21], and ‘spared not His own Son but gave Him up for us all’ [Rom. 8: 32].

“The motivation for all this is of course that ‘Jesus […] having loved His own who were in the world, loved them unto the end’ [John 13: 1].

“At the bottom of the upturned pyramid reigns the lowly and saving spirit of the crucified Christ, for it was, indeed, ‘expedient’ that He perish ‘for the people’ [John 18: 14]. There, according to the eye-opening expression of Fr. Sophrony, ‘we remark a quite especial life, a quite especial light, an especial fragrance.’

“The author and minister of the selfless and indescribable love is Christ. His love is absolute and perfect in its every manifestation. It is shown as perfect love towards the Heavenly Father by His obedience and His assumption of the subservient form of man; and equally, as perfect love towards man by His humility and His acceptance of the Cross. In the garden of Gethsemane He gave up His will to the Heavenly Father. On the cross He offered His body, and His holy soul went down to hell for the salvation of all. He Himself affirmed that ‘no man has greater love than this’ [John 15: 13].

“The love which stems from the summit of the upturned pyramid, Christ crucified, is totally self-giving. [It is outward looking, not inward and self-serving, or of false moral outrage.]

“Its characteristic, when it takes up its abode in the depths of man’s heart, is to bestow upon him the knowledge, on the one hand of his own unrighteousness, and on the other of the true righteousness of Him of whom Scripture says that ‘He sought not to please Himself’, applying to Him the words: ‘the curses of them that curse Thee have fallen upon me’ [Rom. 15: 3].

“In contrast to Adam, who justified himself and refused to take the responsibility for his transgression, Christ offered Himself as a blameless sacrifice in order to free from guilt the condemned children of Adam [- you and me]. So too, man, assisted by the power and illumination of the holy love of Christ, directs the shafts of accusation against his own abomination. Abhorring and rejecting human ‘justice’, he ascribes righteousness only to the Person of God, and shame to his own face for his sins [cf. Dan. 9: 7-9].

“Like the grateful thief, he confesses his offences and justifies the love of the innocent and crucified Lord. In the hearts of its servants, Christ’s love ‘unto the end’ is converted into perfect love to the point of self-hatred. In this state of self-detestation, man is decisively persuaded that ‘if God be such as the crucified Christ made clear, then it is we, and we only, who are guilty of all the evil throughout the history of mankind.’”

Let us seek forgiveness from one another. If we can live outwardly and at the bottom of the pyramid, then fear not the last judgment, because we will be the people of Pascha!