July 27, 2008
The 6th Sunday of Pentecost
And He said unto him, “Son, be of good cheer, thy sins be forgiven.”
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Glory to Jesus Christ!
We are prone to forget, or to sublimate, or push to the back of our minds that the principle gift granted unto us by our Savior’s incarnation and His passion is the forgiveness of sins. That it is by the forgiveness of sins that all the other accoutrements and all the other graces that accompany our appearance to Christ are made available to us. Our Lord, when He instituted the holy liturgy, said, “This is my body which is broken for you, for the forgiveness of sins. This is my blood which is shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins. We acknowledge in the symbol of Nicea,
When our Lord Jesus Christ stood upon earth and he saw this man who was afflicted with a palsy, a man who had some disease that crippled him, that made him incapable of using his limbs in a healthful and appropriate way, and the Lord said to the man, “Be of good cheer. Do not be sad; do not be despondent: thy sins are forgiven thee.” The Jews who heard this bravery, they said, “No one has power on earth to forgive sins except God.” And they were right, they were absolutely correct. Either, the Lord was presenting to them a clear sign of His divinity, that He was the Word of God walking on earth; or else He was a blasphemer. And the Lord, knowing that these people were mocking in their hearts, said, “Which is easier to do: to forgive sins, or to heal palsy?” Well, we have physicians and today we’ll pray in the liturgy for the physicians, the researchers, the nurses, the therapists, the people of our parish and our families who work in the medical profession; they’re able either to heal, or to mitigate, the effects of many diseases. But to forgive sins, that’s for God only.
In our service book, in the tryptics, there is a prayer that was written by Peter Vogila (?), or collected by him, that I choose because I memorized it - it was the prayer given to me when I was ordained. It says, “I, his unworthy servant, through the power given unto me by Him who absolves me of all my sins.” And we have similar prayers we say over the dead body of the departed Orthodox Christian: “I absolve thee, my spiritual child.” But there are qualifying words, “In so far as I have been given power.” For it is more appropriate on the other hand, although avoided by the Slavic church because it stinks a little bit of Protestantism, to use the prayers that the Greeks use, which says, “My child, no man on earth has power to forgive sins. Only God forgives sins. But I, as a witness here to your repentance, declare to you that your sins are forgiven.” It is probably a better way to understand the mystery. Jesus Christ, after all, is the only Priest. He is the Priest of every mystery. We are icons, images, of Him. We are the way that He is visibly made present to you. That’s why, as I’ve said before, we don’t stand behind the table like Roman Catholic priests do at the Eucharist, because that’s the place where Christ stands invisibly. The only person who even sits behind that table is the bishop, who in that particular occasion becomes the image of God the Father on the throne in heaven. You probably didn’t realize that when the bishop takes off and puts on the omophorion, when he has the omophorion on it shows him as Christ, bearing the lost sheep, when he has it off it shows him as God the Father. In other words, he represents to us two persons of the trinity.
What is necessary though, to obtain the remission of sins? It’s very simple. The first thing is repentance, and I’ve told you this before. The word repentance means to fall down on your face, to stop going the wrong direction, to turn around and to go the right direction. The Greek word is metania, or as we used we used to say in that awful Greek we learned in the Western seminary, metanoia. Metania. It is that we recognize that we’re running away from God, and we’re so anxious to stop that we skid our feet out from under us, that we fall down on our faces, we rise up, and we go back to where we came from. Back to our Father and say, “I have sinned against heaven and against You.” That is repentance. It requires contrition. And I have also told you before that contrition is a broken heart; it is a heart that is wounded not because we got caught doing bad things, not even because we’re afraid we’re going to be caught doing bad things, or because we’re grateful we escaped getting caught doing bad things; but it is a heart that is broken by the knowledge of how our evil deeds have wounded the loving heart of our compassionate Father. This is maturity in Christianity; it is understanding that the fear of God is not the fear of lightning bolts coming down and striking us. The fear of God is the fear that a loving child has of bringing pain to a parent who that child knows has only his wellbeing in his concern. So that’s contrition. Attrition is the other stuff. That’s when you say, “Gosh I wish I hadn’t done that. I’ve really gotten myself in trouble. I’ve really made a mess of things. I’ve gotten trapped, or I caused harm.” That can be the call to contrition, but it is not contrition; it is not broken-heartedness, it’s just enlightened self-interest.
And after contrition, then comes confession. It’s best to confess immediately to God what it is that troubles you. Do it immediately. Every evening you ought to, in your evening prayers, examine your day and bring before god any evil deeds you’ve done and ask his forgiveness. Then when you come to the priest for confession, you say it to him simply, as I have told you before. Some people have learned what I was telling you – there’s pastoral counseling, and there’s confession. In confession, you just say the words. In every mystery, there are people who are changed by, or things that are changed, by the mystery. In baptism, our sins are taken away by water; in the Eucharist we receive God’s body and blood for the forgiveness of sins; in confession, we bring to God our sins and God obliterates them. He makes them no longer to exist; He consigns them, in the words of the prayer of absolution at the funeral service, consigns them to oblivion. He is not the God of Calvin, who says “Yeah, you’re guilty, but I beat up my Son, so I don’t have to beat you up. I’ve still got all your sins here in front of me, but I choose to ignore them.” No, He is the God who has the power to take away the sins of the world; and He does. They’re gone. Their consequences are often not gone, but if we repent and are forgiven, the consequences of our sins, even horrific consequences, can become by God’s grace means for good for someone. So, you have repentance, contrition; you have confession. You must then make every effort you can to repair whatever damage is reparable that you have committed by your sins. If you’ve stolen, you should return it; if you’re unable to return it to the person who was defrauded, then give it away to somebody else, because you should not profit from your sins. And finally, you must have a fixed intention, a good will, to seek God’s grace not to sin again. You know you probably will, unless you walk out of here after confession and communion and with a pure intention, and you fall down the stairs and crack your head and die. Then you won’t sin again. Otherwise, you probably will because every day you’re going to have opportunities, and great sins and little sins are the same things – whether you want to call them stones, or pebbles or gravel, they are all the same things. They are sins, the things that destroy our relationship with God. They’re hands full of dirt that we throw in God’s face. They’re spitting in God’s face. They’re the denial of God’s love. And so you have to intend, and ask God’s help sincerely, not to sin anymore. If you don’t intend to attempt not to sin anymore, then you’re sort of mocking God, aren’t you? Then, when you struggle not to sin again, if you find yourself sinning in that same way, don’t say, “Oh well, it’s just a habit I have, or the way I am. I can’t help it,” or, “I really blew it, I failed,” and then go back to your old vile disgusting evil habits. No! Just say, “I failed, God. I did it again. Forgive me again.” And then try again. Because our struggle to be holy is a life long struggle. We achieve it, and then we lose it. We get it back again, and we lose it. We get it back again. We try to hold on to it. We try to develop the habit of cultivating it, and we hope that when the hour of our death comes, we’ll be found abiding in it. That’s why we pray for a Christian ending to our life - painless, unashamed, and peaceful - so we’ll have opportunity to securely offer to God our final confession, to make our final repentance, and to hand our soul over to our loving master.
So remember this: It is by forgiveness of sins that entrance into the kingdom of heaven is possible. Once we have had our sins forgiven, we have restored to us the image and likeness of God. Then we become capable of being acceptable to God. And being acceptable to God, we become capable of being filled with God’s spirit. And being filled with God’s spirit, we become capable of deification, of theosis, of becoming one with God Himself, of being made divine. For certainly, the divine is not going to take into itself anything that is evil. Matter will not absorb into itself antimatter. A thing cannot adhere to its opposite, it expels its opposite. Let us then hear from our good God now today these words: “My child, be of good cheer, thy sins are forgiven thee.” And let us say, “Glory to Christ our God and our Hope, that has forgiven our many and compounded transgressions, and has made us, evil as we have been, acceptable unto Thee.”
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Glory to Jesus Christ!