Forgiveness Sunday

Sermon Forgiveness Sunday

[Rom. 13:11-14:4 (§112)] ; [Matt. 6:14-21 (§17)]

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: 


   It is time: The time is now. It is time for the Lord to act. 

   WAKE UP!! The night is far spent. St. Paul tells us to put aside all excesses both of our bodies and of our passions. But rather to put on our Lord Jesus Christ. Some of our passions are of the body: rebelling — drunkenness, sexual excess; . . . some passions are of our mind: arguing, strife, jealousy, judgement. We are beginning the strictest time of fasting in our Church Year. We each will fast: fasting not just from food but also from these passions. Or we will distain the fast, and will lose the opportunity to war against those things that come between us and God. The Church gives us this opportunity to journey with Christ to Jerusalem. 

   Today is Forgiveness Sunday. At Vespers after Trapeza, we will have the service of mutual forgiveness. The Gospel we are reminds us of the importance of forgiveness — that we must forgive in order to be forgiven. We are also instructed to keep our fasting a secret. Those of us who are new to fasting, it is good to have one person that we hold ourselves accountable to. Those of us who are old hat at fasting should tell no one how well or how badly we do it. Our fasting is supposed to reflect the simplicity of Paradise; the peace of Paradise.

   Keep our eyes on our own plates. It is none of our business how others are keeping the fast. For those of us who are traveling, or visiting, or in situations where someone else is putting food in front of us: eat what is placed in front of you. If someone puts a plate of steak in front of you, it is THE FAST to eat it, to accept their hospitality without hinting that you are observing a fast. 

   As we increase our fasting, prayers, and alms — expect resistance: resistance from our society, from our friends and family, . . . resistance from the evil one and from the demons; . . . but most of all let us expect resistance in ourselves, If you fall in your observance of the Fast, do not use that as an excuse to invalidate yourselves, the Church’s appointed fast, or others. Get back up and begin again. 

   Let us fast as a way of drawing close to God, to let our hunger remind us of God. Let us not fast for its own sake, for remember that the Pharisee fasted, and his fasting was worthless, for he was proud of his fasting.

   I invite you to fast from the glut of information that we feast on daily, especially what we have experienced for the last 10 days. I realize many of us need to be on-line for work. Still it is good to turn down the volume on all the news and stories and issues and noise that assails us daily. Even if we must be on-line, if we can spend as little time the first week of lent and during Holy Week we will do well. 

There are lots of people out there who have a vested interest in us being angry, upset. They want to manipulate our passions for their cause whether it be political, for profit, for power. I invite you to fast from political arguments. The noise that is getting louder keeps us from seeing our own contribution to that very noise, so that we can’t see ourselves and repent. 

And what of repentance? Menoia (the Greek word that is translated) means to change our nous, our spiritual mind. It is also used to describe a profound bow to the ground. It is the posture of humility. If we force our bodies to be humble, our spirits and minds will follow. 

I invite you to listen to the Quiet. In the Quiet it is easier to see the meaninglessness of it all — the boredom and the fear. And I invite you to treasure the Kingdom of God above all. As Elijah met God’s glory in the quiet still voice, so let us meet God through stillness. 

   Forgiveness — entering the fast with forgiveness. Forgiveness does not mean that what was done was OK — just that you are not going to let it rent space in your head. 

   Most people, when they say to others “forgive”, they mean stop processing the pain, because your pain makes them uncomfortable. The only way of healing is through the pain — and it is only through the pain that true forgiveness can happen. 

   Forgiveness is a process. . . it lives after the processing of grieving and of facing abandonment. 

   True forgiveness is a process that takes us deep into ourselves and our own pain. It is not the same as excusing the abuser. It cannot be forced; it cannot be accomplished by saying mere words. It cannot be rushed, for if it is rushed it is false. 

   Forgiveness is a journey. . . . a journey into a wound that someone has made in us. . . . only to discover that the wound is deeper than this person who wounded us, and that there are a lot of other people in this wound, and one of those includes myself.

   Until we forgive the darkness in ourselves, we do not know what forgiveness is.

   We begin this time of fasting in a time of conflict and war. We feel helpless, as if there is little we can do in a drama that is being directed by three powers who have not consulted us. What can we do?

   As St. Silouan said: We can stand before the Lord in prayer, praying for the world that is shedding blood.

   Metropolitan Anthony Bloom adds that we pray, “Not in that easy prayer that we offer out of our comfort, but in a prayer that rushes to heaven from sleepless nights; in a prayer that does not give rest; in a prayer that is born from the horror of compassion; in a prayer that no longer allows us to continue living our insignificant and empty life. That prayer requires us to finally understand that life is deep and that we are spending it racing about something unworthy and also became unworthy of ourselves, unworthy of God, unworthy of sorrow and joy, the torment on the Cross and the Glory of Resurrection, which constantly alternate and intertwine on our earth.”

“In the face of what is going on in front of the Cross, death, and spiritual agony of people, let us renounce the pettiness and insignificance of our life—and then we will be able to do something: by our prayer, by way of our life, and perhaps even by something braver and more creative.”

   It is a very difficult time, . . . and there will be much to distract us from focusing on prayer and our own repentence. We have to be more vigilant to our own spiritual needs. . . And the parts of us that deal with fear, want us to focus on that instead. . .  This is going to be one of the most difficult Great Lents that any of us do. Be sober: watch and pray  that we enter not into temptation. 

   To Him Who comes to His Passion for our sakes, be all glory honour and worship; now and ever and unto the ages of ages. 

St. Mary of Egypt

Mary of Egypt III
Sermon Sunday of St. Mary of Egypt

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.



   Today the Church sets before us two spiritual athletes: One, a monk battling his own spiritual pride, and the other, an addict. St. Zossimos was an ascetic who was tempted by pride: He was a good enough monk that he knew the danger of it, and asked God for help. God sent him to the monastery of St. Savas the Sanctified. The other — St. Mary of Egypt: A great sinner, and a great saint. They represent the sort of temptation we face during this time of Great Lent, but also in our life in general. She faced a life of temptation to gluttony, drunkenness, and physical lust. He faced a life of temptation to vainglory, pride, self conceit, and hypocrisy. 

   St Mary’s life brings to us a multitude of questions. She was not a prostitute. To call her such would be an insult to the prostitutes of Alexandria in that day. They despised her and considered her to be an immoral woman. St. Mary was a sex addict and an alcoholic. These were the passions that ruled her life. 

   And what we know today of addiction is that it has components that feed it: Lack of connection or isolation, shame, and usually trauma of some kind, often from childhood. St. Mary tells us that she left home at 12. That is alarming enough for us to consider today. In the sixth century it was even more so very unusual for a young lady of 12 to leave her home and go to the big city. The question hangs heavy over the narrative that she is telling St. Zossimos. We don’t really know what prompted her leaving home. She doesn’t tell us. It is problematic to speculate. And it may be that this information was withheld so that we, who hear this account centuries later, might not somehow minimize her self-destructive life. But something happened. She only tells us that she renounced her parents’ love. 

   Whatever event it was, or possibly recurring events, St. Mary goes off to the big city. We can imagine what happens to a 12 year old girl alone in the big city, and it happens to Mary; and she begins to act out sexually. She has no connection there and no one to connect with. She follows a life of sexual excess, trying to use her physical body to bridge that isolation. She substitutes sex for love and intimacy. She commits shameful acts and then uses more shameful acts to try and forget her shame. She is isolated even from the bottom most part of Alexandrian society, and though she keeps trying the same solution to her isolation and shame, it only results in more isolation and shame, and to deflect her shame, she became shameless. . . .  And she tells us that she drank quite a lot of wine. She lived a life devoid of any healthy boundaries. 

   She was a victim to passions that were inflicted upon her, and a victim of her own passions, which she let rule her for 17 years. . . . Then someone mentions one fall that the Exaltation of the Cross will be celebrated in Jerusalem shortly. We don’t know exactly what about the Cross touched in her, but somehow it did; somehow it spoke to the depth of her, and she decided to go. Often when we move towards God, that which is keeping us from Him gets louder. She used more debauchery to secure her passage even to the point of forcing herself on the sailors — a behaviour that suggests that somewhere along the way, that she had been forced. As with most addictions, it eventually takes more to get the same buzz, to get the same forgetting. But nothing she did could fill the emptiness inside her. Nothing provided the real intimacy that her soul sought.

   On the day of the Exaltation of the Cross she attempted to enter with the crowd, but she could not. Something was preventing her, whether a spiritual army or being paralyzed by her own shame, she could not proceed. After several more attempts she finds herself on the porch, unable to go further. She is confronted with a profound absence. And in it, she begins to see her own self abandonment. And slowly it begins to dawn on her why she cannot proceed; and as with the Prodigal Son, she comes to herself. She comes upon an icon of the Theotokos and weeps before it realizing the depths of her wounds and impurity before the pure one. And a space of repentance is created for her. The love of God and the Theotokos warms her heart and her soul in all the ways she had been seeking in the wrong ways. She promises that she will go wherever the Theotokos leads her if she will be permitted to venerate the precious cross of Her Son. And the way is made for her to come into the Church of the Resurrection and to fall before the Holy Cross and kiss it. She was granted a new desire — a desire for the Cross.

   Then she goes back to the icon and asks for instruction. And she is told to go to the desert across the Jordan. After taking the Holy Mysteries, she enters a different kind of isolation, one from which she cannot hide herself. For 17 years she struggled in the desert, one year for each she spent in debauchery. For 17 years she and wrestled with her thoughts and desires and her wounds and even demonic attacks, until she found peace. 

   And so the Church puts St. Mary before us. This is what repentance looks like. Her story asks questions of us: What are we addicted to? Alcohol? Raging (as was St Paul when he first became a Christian)? Gambling? Internet? Being right? Pornography? Our own ego? Are we addicted to Chaos? What boundaries of our own and of others have we violated seeking to fill that emptiness? When we try to move towards God, it feels like a sickness. We are unaccustomed to peace. For us it feels like a sickness, like a disease that we must cure by applying more chaos, and more of our addiction.   

   Although the dynamics of it may not be quite as intense as it was for St. Mary, the dynamics are still there. What shame are we avoiding? How are we using behaviours or substances to avoid looking at ourselves and our own deep loneliness?  What wounds do we have that feed all this? In our shame we cannot move God-ward — St. Mary couldn’t — and we, like her medicate our shame with more of the same.

   Brothers and Sisters, our Lord wants to heal these in us. The Lord wants to take the poisonous parts of shame away from us. The Lord wants to fill up our loneliness with Himself. . .  And we are often our own worst enemy:

We will sing at Vespers tomorrow: I have rivaled in foolishness the rich man who showed no love for others; overwhelmed by sensual pleasures and the passions, I live in luxury and self-indulgence. I see my mind, O Lord, lying always like Lazarus before the gates of repentance, but with indifference I pass it by, and leave it hungry, sick and wounded by the passions. Therefore I deserve to be condemned to the flames of Gehenna: but deliver me from them, O Master, for Thou alone art rich in mercy.  (Vespers, Monday of the 6th week)

   We starve ourselves spiritually while indulging ourselves and the noise of our culture. As the hymn from the vigil said, we have not attained the virtue of the pharisee, nor the repentance of the sinful woman. We neglect our own mind when it seeks spiritual nourishment. 

   When we are proud, as St. Zossimos was getting perilously close to, we miss the Lord of the Universe. When we humble ourselves, even as St. Mary did, we are filled with the very thing we have been using our addictions to get, and that our addictions have prevented us from getting. But though we cannot move God-ward, God has taken our flesh and come to us to heal us. 

   Through the power of God we can change our life, whether we are a seasoned ascetic or a broken addict. But it must be through God’s power. If we attempt on our own, we will reap frustration, and more shame. We must also have a listening and humble heart. Zossimos did not expect to be instructed in the faith by an addict, yet he was. 

   And as Zossimos headed back to the monastery of St Savas the Sanctified, so we are also in the home stretch. The hymns ask us, this week to notice how we starve ourselves spiritually, as the rich man starved Lazarus. At the end of this week we will hear in the hymns to assemble ourselves. Jesus also is in a journey — a journey towards Jerusalem where He will confront and defeat death. He comes to heal the sick and raise up Lazarus from the dead. Jesus comes to be received by His people and then be betrayed by them. Christ our God comes to His Passion for our sakes. Let us journey with Him; and so let us find in Him the healing of our passions. 

To Whom be all glory, honour and worship, now and ever and unto ages of ages. 



Musing with a couple of cups of BishopBlend™ …

The world is noisy lately. Revolutions happen. Inevitably Revolutions seem to increase both good and bad things happening in society. People who we call “crazy” because we cannot imagine “why?” they would do it, decide to take innocent lives.

Parents do terrible things to their children. We try to understand, “why?” because we cannot imagine ourselves doing the same things. Tragic accidents or illnesses snuff out the life of our children of promise, and we don’t understand, “why?”.

When things like this happen our minds grasp at tying to find an explanation. It is our paltry attempt at making ourselves feel safe in a world full of chaos. We grasp at restoring the illusion of safety. When we offer our illusions to those who are in the midst of the chaos, we are surprised that they take no comfort from our illusions.

There are no easy answers, and as uncomfortable as it is to acknowledge, our world is full of chaos, some of it self inflicted, some of it imposed from without.

Into this chaos, Christ comes to heal our infirmities and show us a way of offering this world back to Him as our priestly office. While we cannot control the chaos from without, and we cannot will the chaos from within to be still, yet Christ shows us a way through repentance to heal that chaos in ourselves. But it is hard. There is no prepackaged formula for repentance. There is much more to repentance than saying, “OK, I’ll repent.” While much of me is tired of the chaos and its price on my life, there is part of me that delights in chaos. It requires me to know myself and to be watchful over the invitations to chaos in my life. This is a part of me that most needs God’s healing.

The world’s chaos can be healed as well. This is something we must do together, as a community. And I can start healing the world’s chaos by looking into and allowing God to heal my own chaos. As St. Seraphim famously said: Acquire a spirit of peace and thousands around you will be saved. So, my project for world peace must begin with me.

May the Lord God have mercy on us all.