2013.03.17 Sermon by Father Jonah
“Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 3 But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.5
“And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 6 But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. 7 And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 “Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him. 9 In this manner, therefore, pray:
Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
10 Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors.
13 And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.[c]
14 “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
16 “Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 17 But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. 19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Today is the beginning of the Great Lent and, of course, the Sunday of Forgiveness. First of all, to say a few things about the Great Lent: From tomorrow, the Church remembers the Fall of Adam, and the Church reminds us that we must prepare for forty days to celebrate Easter, to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is a spiritual preparation; it is a preparation where we must also see ourselves and come to repentance.
But this spiritual preparation has many steps; we cannot go directly from zero to perfection. Many people when they have confession, they say, “Oh, I don’t have the perfect love;” or they don’t have the prayer completely in their mind and their thoughts go to other places or other thoughts. And I always say, from the Fathers of the Desert, I mean, “Who do you think you are? You cannot go directly to perfection; there are different steps that the spirituality of the Church has, and the first step is fasting, which is to control my food. Yes, we are what we eat, right? If we don’t have food we will die. But we can choose how to eat and what to eat: to eat because it is necessary to eat and not to eat mainly for pleasure. Actually, the first commandment to human beings in Paradise was, “Don’t eat from this tree.” Not of course, that this tree had a problem, but it was also a spiritual exercise. He told them because they weren’t ready to have the fruit of total knowledge.
So fasting is very important. It is obedience; it is exercising the love of God and training ourselves. If I cannot control my stomach, how can I control my mind, how can I control my heart?
Actually, it is not only for this, it is to participate a little bit and to remember Jesus Christ’ death and to see the pain in all the world. So many people have nothing to eat and they are starving. We have so much food here and other people are dying, starving. So this is also something that the fasting is saying to us.
But although we are fasting from food, we are not fasting from the real food of life (pointing to the chalice). This is why we will have more opportunities to receive the Holy Communion during the Great Lent. As I told you, we will have it every Wednesday and every Friday night at seven o’clock the Pre-sanctified Liturgy, and I showed you here (pointing to the chalice) how we will do that. So we will fast from one point of view – the normal food, but we can eat much more of the food of life, Jesus Christ himself.
Fasting, of course, cannot be applied to people who have any health problem or, like here in Taiwan, the many people who were married by non-Orthodox people. So if your husband or wife is not Orthodox, fasting should not become are reason to quarrel. So if it is necessary, then I say to you as your spiritual father, you should eat because food should not be a reason for misunderstandings. And when it is not easy to find the right food, it is better to eat something than to become sick.
But the most important thing, and all these spiritual preparations cannot work if there is one thing missing, and this thing is forgiveness. The Gospel says today, that without forgiveness nothing that we do is profitable; it cannot be a spiritual thing. So we will say a few things about forgiveness. The gospel says if you don’t “leave”; and leave means like there is a folded piece of money and (dropping a folded piece of paper on the floor) I don’t take it any more into my consideration. Forgiveness means that I do not scratch the place where you wounded me, because when I scratch it, it will become much more painful. And trust me, it is not only painful because I scratch this. Human weakness comes, the time that we are under the time that reminds me and makes me scratch more and to replay again inside me the fear of how I was wounded. This becomes bigger and bigger and bigger, and then I feel more hunger inside me, and I feel more pain. In this way become and endless loop, a cycle; and this is a cycle of sickness.
Forgiving the other is not only the commandment of God; it is something necessary for our peace, to say, “OK, I don’t hate any more.” But, of course this is a very difficult thing. And I wanted to say a few things more about this, because it is for many of us, for most of us, many times it seems to be difficult to forgive. Somebody could say, “Well, why should I forgive this person?” I forgive this person, first of all, because this is the commandment of God. I cannot be Christian if I don’t forgive others, because I, too, am expecting the forgiveness of God for what I do to the others because each person is an icon of God, and image of God; it is a living image of God.
But, as I say to you, it is – or it seems to be – very difficult to forgive others. This is because many times we mix the pain of what happened to us with the memory and the person who caused something. For example, if someone has taken my money it is the pain that I don’t have the money, and it is this person, and this pain is mixed with the person who caused the pain. I cannot say to you not to feel the pain, because the pain is pain, the pain exists but if we want to be Christians we must disassociate the pain from the person who caused the pain. This is a very important thing since every one of us has this big problem, every one of us, because we don’t know how to deal with the pain. I must understand and say, “Yes, I feel pain because someone hit me here and I am swollen.” This is a pain, and I cannot trick myself. But on the other hand, I must separate and forget who caused this pain, and so to say, “The pain exists, but it’s not you, it just happened.” I can trick myself and say, “If it was not you, probably somebody else would have caused the pain,” Because we all have our weaknesses, and sometime a temptation occurs to teach me to be more humble, to give me some other understanding, and through a painful way to help me. So if I say, “Yes I have a pain but, I don’t know, I try to forget who caused it.” And actually when I stop this, gradually this can turn into mercy. And why do I say mercy? Because we don’t know how or why the other caused my pain. Because of misunderstandings? Yes, and especially when we live here and most of us don’t speak our first language, we speak other languages, there are linguistic misunderstandings. There are also, and we must understand especially in this period of the Great Lent, there are a lot of temptations from the Devil, who tries to do everything to take what you say to me and turn it to something else. And then my old Adam, the other the own human being, which is sick and which is – not dead – but is sleeping inside, will find ways to wake up and create from this small thing more things.
So as I say, if we disassociate . Why do I say this? Because as also modern philosophers say, we forgive the act or we forgive the person who caused the bad part, this is very important because we must forgive the person who did this. The act remains. For example the Holocaust, imagine Auschwitz, that was the witness to the killing: even if we make in the place of Auschwitz a theatre, a stadium, just to forget, even the stones will shout that here was a place where human dignity was killed, was sacrificed. But it is different to feel pity for the enemy, and the pity will become mercy, and the mercy will become to embrace him because we understand that I am a human being and you are a human being; today you have done this, but I also have done it to the others. There is nothing that cannot be forgiven. And when it is very difficult to forgive that there is one way, really, and a very strongly to forgive the other, really. This way is to become united with him, and we can become united with him by the Holy Communion. This is why if Jesus Christ did not incarnate, if Jesus Christ does not give the Holy Communion, we cannot have real forgiveness.
In Greek the word forgiveness has many meanings, but the most important is that I can live with you in the same place, and with love and mutual understanding. The real forgiveness is that if I receive the Holy Communion and you restore the Holy Communion then we are members, and we restore the membership of each other. Because being the body of Jesus Christ, we become members of the other. If I don’t forgive, it is like these two fingers of my hand, this finger hates the other finger, and this is like a cancer in the body, it is a suffering, it is a disease for me. You may say, “And what about if the other does not forgive me. Yes, I forgive him but he does not forgive me. I am asking for forgiveness and he does not give it.” First of all, I will say that it is not always that the other does not forgive you. Forgiveness means we go first and we try in peace or we find a common friend to help us, to say, “Look at this, I have done this; maybe there was a misunderstanding, maybe I was angry and I did not know what to say this time. Please forgive me. So, first of all, this is a kind of reconciliation. The second thing is that if the other insists and says, “No, I hate you, go away, then we go to the church, then we go to the Church and we see the wisdom of the Church and the advice of the Church. The advice of the Church, most of the time, is that you pray for him. When I commemorate your names here on the altar, many people they give me their names and they write, for their enemies, not because these people have enemies that they hate, but there are people who hate them. And they give me those names to commemorate them, to put them, to put a small piece of those names in the body of Jesus Christ. This is their love, that they radiate, that they send to them Jesus Christ. They put those names in the blood of Jesus Christ. And so even if the other is so cruel, he has a heart like stone, he will gradually, by the grace of God, be released from the Devil; because it’s not that he does not forgive you, but he is under the control of the Devil. And then, the Church says, you do the first step. How? By receiving the Holy Communion. Because it is different to say to somebody, don’t receive the Holy Communion to understand that what you do is bad, and to say, because the other does not forgive me so I don’t receive the Holy Communion, which means that I cut completely what unites me with the other, and what unites you with me and with each other is Jesus Christ. This is a union, this is a bond that cannot be destroyed, even by the Devil. As the Apostle Paul says, and this is why we pray for the dead. So this is the union that we have through Jesus Christ, even if the other does not forgive me, so I must take the Holy Communion, under the instructions of the Church, and this will help the other to forgive me.
And we must understand that this is probably our misunderstanding: maybe the other already forgave us, and we misunderstand the pain that he feels, but it is not any bad feeling personally for us. Forgiveness is not that I do not want to punish you, but the time and the memory are a big problem in forgiveness. And you see, actually the liturgy erases the memory, because how does God forgive us? He says, “OK, I have a file of all the bad things you have done to me, but I don’t open this file.” But the past exists, right? God does not forgive us because of the past, but because he sees us from the future. He sees us – as I am now – he sees me from the point of view of the Kingdom of Heaven. This is why for God there is no past, but it is my present situation and your present situation. And in the liturgy, because the liturgy comes from the future – the liturgy is the kingdom of Heaven here and now – we are forgiven because time works in a very different way from the way it works in everyday life. So, in the liturgy, the memories are over, and the new life comes here so the past is erased.
But still you can say, “We don’t live completely in the Kingdom of Heaven. If you read The Revelation you see that when John opens the Fifth Seal, he says, “I saw the souls of those who were slaughtered, who suffered, who felt the injustices of this world, under the altar,” saying, ‘Till when, Lord will you not stop this evil, and you don’t take revenge for our blood?’” These souls actually don’t want revenge. The right was refused to them to be in a court and say the truth, to defend themselves, to proclaim their truth; this is what they want: to stop the evil, because they feel this injustice. But these holy people, they make the altar, they constitute the altar. And this is why the Orthodox altar always has holy relics, because they express this pain that many times we express and say, “Why do you behave to me like this?”
See what God told them: he told them, “Wait a little bit. There are still too many people waiting to be in the Kingdom of Heaven.” And he says, “Rest,” and he gives them new clothes of glory. This rest, it is what works for our present time. Rest where? Rest in Jesus Christ (pointing to the chalice); rest, taking Jesus Christ inside you. This will stop the time inside out, in His powerful and miraculous way. And the time will not come to remind us what happened yesterday or one year ago, or ten years ago, or twenty years ago.
Yes, we are wounded; but we live now – if we want and if we try to follow the Bible and to follow the teachings of the Church – in this rest, rest in the Holy Communion till the Second Coming, when time as it exists will stop and it will be a measure of the love of the love that God gives to us and how we love the others.
And so in this way, and by all our praise we have the power and the holiness to create ourselves, and not to be under our memories, and not to be under the influence of the Devil, which comes to us and confuses our mind. Because there is a difference, as I said, between he who does not forgive and he who does not accept the forgiveness. Because many times for people also to accept forgiveness: not only to ask for forgiveness, but to accept it. Because many of us say to ourselves, “I must torture myself.” God says in the gospel to the prostitute woman, and in many others, “Go, your sins are forgiven.” What does this mean? That there is nothing now to separate you from the love of God, and from the love of the others, and from the love of yourself. It’s open, the door is open; come. But we see, not all the people come: not all the people were willing to accept the forgiveness of God. You see the gospel about the paralyzed person and Jesus said to him, “Take your bed and go on.” This man did not say even one thank-you to Jesus Christ. He received forgiveness of his sins, because the Gospel says he was sick due to his sins. He accepted forgiveness a little bit, and then later he forgot.
So we must know how to receive forgiveness, and this is a big problem in psychology, because our heart is saying, “I did not do any bad thing, why should I ask forgiveness? And why should I receive forgiveness?”
This day is a big day for us. In Orthodox countries, people will call each other, will go to each other’s houses – especially in the past, when the towns were smaller – to ask forgiveness. And by this forgiveness to stop the past and all the other things. Please, we should learn to do the same. And of course I’m asking you also to forgive me (bows down slightly); and of course you are forgiven also. But try to train our minds, and to train our memories. If I don’t forgive the others, how can I expect God to forgive me? Not because he says, “Oh you don’t do this, so I take revenge for (on?) you.” But we cannot receive the forgiveness of God if I cut the relationship with you, because then I cut the relationship with God since this relationship passes through the others. God always talks to us through the others. You see what the Gospel of John says, “He who does not love tastes in the darkness.” And many times, this refusing to accept forgiveness is a very bad way to take revenge secretly, subconsciously on the other.
And so we must learn to be humble, and also to understand that our forgiveness is not only theoretical and in our minds, but to be very practical. For example, “OK, I forgive you. But I don’t want to help you.” What is this forgiveness? Forgiveness is also something very practical, to express with all my heart to help you more if I was helping you a little, if I forgive you and I want really to be your brother, to help you double, and to open my heart and to close the wounds. I speak about the wounds, but if you see the icon of Jesus Christ of the Resurrection, you see in His hands also the wounds of the nails. He did not cure them. He left the wounds to show that his love for us is very real. It is not only that He loves us, but we love him by the wounds, because we scratch him: many times the wounds that we cause to each other, they unite us. It is easy to unite me with somebody, for example, if she is a beautiful girl or something. And it is much more difficult with the wounds – the pain that the other caused to me – because we say, “Yes, I love you, because through this pain, I know your character better. And I can take it. And you are real, you are not just pretending that you are a sane person, you are not. But I like you and I love you as you are, not creating a false imagination of what you should be, and to play this role.”
Remember, in the love of God, the wounds that we cause to each other, they bring us closer – through the wounds – to see the other. And the wounds of Jesus Christ show to his Father how he loves us and how we love Him: “Well they did this, and now I can see through the wounds. (Looking at the back of his hands as if he can see through them to the congregation) I can see you; I know you really.” Yes, you are not saved, but this is why I love you, not because you are saved because if you are saved there is not a problem, but it is not your real self. So remember that when we receive the Holy Communion, the bad wounds become ways of uniting us, and it is through the wounds (pointing to his palms) that I can see.
And once more – and I will finish with this – remember what the Lord said in The Revelation, “Rest in the Holy Communion,” Concentrate in this and receive in this, especially all this period. We receive the forgiveness, that of Jesus Christ. You see in the sermon of John Chrysostom for the Resurrection, he says, “Forgiveness came out from the grave.” And resting in the Holy Communion, we rest our memories, so they should be not: “He does not forgive me. He reminds me of this. You remind me of this. You do all these things.” Rest in the Holy Communion till the time that God will take out all our problems,
May the Holy Trinity protect all of us. Amen