The Grace of Forgiveness


I never know quite how these things work, but I awoke this morning with the tune and words of “Open to me the Gates of Repentance.” It invariably set the tone of my morning’s thought and the background for the better part of the day. It occurred to me, reflecting, that forgiveness, like repentance, is not automatic, or even the sort of thing we can “do,” in and of ourselves.

We may need to forgive someone desperately and yet not find it within ourselves to do so. In the words of Fr. Thomas Hopko, the most we can sometimes do is to “want to want to forgive.”

Neither is repentance a natural given. We are given the call to repentance – but at the heart of its meaning – a “change of the mind (nous)” repentance is no more within our own power than forgiveness. These are outright miracles – the working of grace in our lives.

I recall from somewhere the story of a young man who sought to enter one of the monasteries on the Holy Mountain for the purpose of becoming a monk. Instead of welcoming him in – the doors were locked. He slept in the doorway for days before it was opened to him.

I feel that this is a place where we begin our Lenten journey. “Open to me the gates of repentance,” though in reality the most we can do is to lie down and wait. Our work in the Lenten services is a sort of “lying down.” We put ourselves where the gates of repentance are – where they can open to us as God wills.

It is most certain that He wills our repentance and that we be able to forgive as He forgives – but both are themselves points and markers on the journey to union with Him. If they do not always come as easily as we would like, then we remain waiting, knocking, seeking, asking – with the assurance that those who do such things will in the end receive what they have sought.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.





4 responses to “The Grace of Forgiveness”

  1. […] Read the full entry, “the Grace of Forgiveness” here. […]

  2. Don Bradley Avatar
    Don Bradley

    When you post something that enables a person to talk about themselves (be it their heart, their life, etc.), it is easier for any of us to respond. It is natural for us to talk about ourselves.

    When you post about our true needs (repentance, forgiveness, prayer) it is more difficult for us to converse because of our inadequecies. I exist in a quick-fix environment that doesn’t easily lend itself to waiting. This is no different when it comes to religion. The story of the monk sleeping at the gates of the monastery is an excellant metaphor to make your point.

    The themes expressed in this post of “want to want to forgive” and “want to want to repent” are enlightening. Sometimes that’s all I’ve got. In a post last week you spoke of prayer as union with God, which I juxtapose to the endless litanies of requests I tend to offer to God, something which I found to be helpful. Now when I go to grab my prayer rope I think actively in my mind that what I’m doing is seeking union with God as opposed to offering another litany.

    What you propose in this post with regards to repentance and forgiveness is an even longer process. Waiting. It is our true need, and the ends are not merely judicial, but union, and ties into a previous posting by you that all of Christian life is about union.

    I understand the doctrine of the Church as regards to theosis (union with God), but putting such a doctrine into practical effect in my life I find difficult. Linking the themes of repentance, forgiveness, and prayer to the doctrine of theosis I find quite helpful. They require time and work, which runs counter to the culture I exist in. But it is my true need.

  3. Lutheran Synergism and Orthodox Monergism

    In light of some arguments I have been having (such as here) with fellow Lutherans about synergism and monergism, I found the following observation by the Orthodox priest Fr Stephen Freeman quite remarkable: … forgiveness, like repentance, is not aut…

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