To Forgive is Divine


One of the more important verses in the New Testament, it seems to me, is Christ statement, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5). I have noticed that there are some side discussions that some of my comments have been used in on the subject of “synergism” vs. “monergism,” which is not a debate I wish to take part in (I don’t think debates serve much of a Godly purpose), and often we press things in a scholastic manner in which we wish to categorize what could be just as well remained uncategorized. Getting your categories right will not improve your soul’s state in any measure whatsoever, and may, indeed, do it great harm. Of course, my own approach to any such question is simply be to find out if the Church has a particular teaching on the matter. If it does, that is what I believe. If it does not, then I probably don’t need to have an opinion in the matter.

Having said that, I will add that I do think it worthwhile to give thought to what I would call the more “existential” questions of our salvation. I noted in an earlier post that though we are commanded to repent and commanded to forgive, we sometimes find it impossible to do either. I would not deny that when finally we do repent and when finally we do forgive (as the grace of God makes possible) it is still I who forgive and I who repent, not someone else. Surely I am involved in it. Again, I’m not sure how to analyze that, nor do I really care.

What matters to me is that I am commanded to do some things that are sometimes impossible, as far as I can see at that moment. And this is significant. It makes me think of Christ’s question to his disciples, “Will you leave me, too?” and their reply, “Where else would we go? You have the words of eternal life.” It simply is the case that we find ourselves occasionally brought up against an impossible wall. It is then that we do well to remember that “with God all things are possible.”

The image I used earlier was of a young man lying at the gate of a monastery for days until he was finally admitted. By the same token, we should cast ourselves before God until the gates are opened. “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” Of course these things are the gift of God, or such prayers would be meaningless.

But our Orthodox faith teaches not a righteousness that is merely “imputed,” but a true change of who we are. Our salvation is real in every possible manner. Thus a new heart is created within me and a right spirit established within me. And this goes on time and again over the course of my Christian life.

Today we marked the beginning of Lent with the Vespers of Forgiveness. For some it may have been an easy matter, for others quite difficult. For some, even, an impossible event. But with God all things are possible.

As one of the Fathers said, “Man is dust who has been commanded to become God.”

To forgive others is indeed to be like God – but being commanded is not always enough within itself. I am reminded of the Orthodox prayer that says, “Save me whether I want it or not!” This is simply another way of saying, “Create in me a clean heart, O God.”

Far greater than solving the proper parsing of our salvation, is to forgive one another. The first will not likely be included on our finals. The other is our finals.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.





6 responses to “To Forgive is Divine”

  1. Tia Avatar

    Oh bummer! We were snowed in today and MISSED Forgiveness Sunday!! I have no words…

  2. fatherstephen Avatar

    We forgave you anyway!

  3. Steve Avatar

    I told my mom about Forgiveness Sunday. She said, “That is so COOL!!”

  4. Alice C. Linsley Avatar
    Alice C. Linsley

    I was chrismated yesterday and feel like a new person. It was like baptism and ordination rolled into one for me. Then I attended Vespers and spoke the wonderful words: “Forgive me, sister.” “Forgive me, brother.” “God forgives.” God is good beyond our imagining.

  5. Steve Avatar

    Praise God! I’ve been watching your conversion posts via pontifications for a while now, sister. What a blessed day!

  6. fatherstephen Avatar


    I could not possibly be happier for you. Lent is indeed joyful sorrow, but this sounds like such great joy. Many years!

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  1. Carlos, thanks for your reply. Even if the prayers are first person singular, they are for all of us to…

  2. Janine, Yes! I’ve read about the ancient corporate sense and its interpretive power in scripture, but I’m hesitant to apply…

  3. Kenneth, thanks for that reminder about John the Baptist. Carlos, I kind of think that we are confusing ancient forms…

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  5. Father Stephen, Thank you for zeroing in on the shame and recommending your book. I look forward to reading it!

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