Forgiveness and the Kingdom


I am grateful for the patience of my readers – I have written less in the past few weeks – instead mostly posting quotes from the Fathers. It’s not a laziness on my part but an opportunity to go to a well that is far deeper than myself and a great help when I am in a very busy season in the parish.

This Sunday we draw to the edge of Great Lent, and inaugurate that fast with the service of Forgiveness Vespers, at the end of which, many Orthodox will practice the “rite of forgiveness” with priest asking forgiveness from each individual in the congregation and each member of the congregation asking forgiveness of each other member of the congregation. There are variations on how the rite is practiced – but that is our pattern in my parish.

Forgiveness is not only a commandment: “Forgive and you will be forgiven;” or even “Forgive your enemies,” etc. It is perhaps among the greatest and most important commandments. For the power of forgiveness can hardly be overstated.

It has the power to change the past. Perhaps that seems like an overstatement – but a wound delivered to me in the past – can be changed and rendered harmless through forgiveness, thus changing the power of the past over the present and the future.

Forgiveness is the triumph of the age to come over all other things. Thus, in our hymnography at Pascha we are told, “Let us forgive all by the resurrection.” For in the resurrection, that is, in the age to come, what grudge would you keep? And if you would not keep it then, why do you keep it now?

In some of the stories concerning Christ’s ministry it is clear that He makes little or no distinction between the forgiveness of sin and physical healing. It is certainly true that sin can have a physical effect. But if you knew that you possessed an elixir, the result of which when taken, would heal any disease, from whom would you withhold it? Why then would we withhold forgiveness from any when in many cases it would be an elixir of health?

Some will say that they would forgive if only the other person would first ask for forgiveness. But the love of God is made manifest to us in that “while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” The nature of the forgiveness we are taught does not presuppose that repentance has preceded it. It is a gift freely given without any neccessary deserving. If you believe you are saved by grace, then why do you not extend grace to all around you?

I have made it a practice in my personal life to go back through the years, even to childhood, to remember things that were matters of a grudge. A bully who made life hard for me – a parishioner who spoke evil of me without cause, etc. I make a point of praying (secretly) for them by name each time I offer the Holy Eucharist, while I am also praying for all those others whom I would normally remember. I do not know if I can yet truly forgive all by the resurrection. But I pray for all, and I want to forgive. I pray that nothing I have done to any will be a cause for stumbling, nor that anything that has been done to me will be held against them on the day of judgment. Not for my sake would I see anyone estranged from God.

Forgiveness is the great “allee-allee-in-come-free” (as in the children’s game of hide and seek) of the cosmos. If we forgive all, are we not in paradise?

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.


12 responses to “Forgiveness and the Kingdom”

  1. fatherstephen Avatar

    In the photo an Orthodox Christian is receiving the sacrament of confession. The rite of forgiveness is a separate action – but all forgiveness is the same power of God to raise from the dead.

  2. thegodguy Avatar

    How can God forgive us if we do not identify the evil in ourselves? Does God forgive us inspite of ourselves? Will God forgive me if I prefer to hold on to the cupidities and allurements of the world?

    When we repent what do we repent from? Do we just make a blanket statement that we are sinners?

    Raising the dead signifies something even more profound. The real miracle involves resuscitation of the spirit. It is our inner being that is to be raised from spiritual death. Otherwise, the Lord’s action of vivifying a rotting body is simply “showing off.”

    Similarly, turning “water into wine” has a higher, spiritual meaning, conveying the power of the Lord to turn ordinary knowledge into knowledge with more “kick.” The body thirsts for water just as the mind thirsts for knowlege. God can take knowledge and turn it to something more potent for the spirit. The Lord has more important things to do than keeping wedding guests happy and drunk.

  3. fatherstephen Avatar

    Indeed. There are greater and deeper meanings to the Miracle at Cana of Galillee. I’m not certain about the mind stuff – cautious about various gnosticisms.

    But the heart is the great matter of forgiveness. None of us are wise enough to even know the evil in ourselves. God alone knows. Thus we entrust ourselves to Him who in our life will bring forward all that we need to know (as we are faithful) and bring us to repentance and healing.

    The lifetime of the discipline of forgiveness, repentance, communion, etc., that is the life of an Orthodox Christian, has its effects – we are slowly healed and transformed into the image of Christ. It is the way He has given us in Scripture and the life of the Church (Holy Tradition). But until we truly submit our lives to Him not much else can take place.

    The spirit did not die in Lazarus (for instance). But death represents the separation of soul and body, a great tragedy. His resurrection was not “showing off,” but a sign pointing to the general resurrection (even though Lazarus was but the resusitation of one who was yet to die again). But there will be a general resurrection.

    There are also “resurrections” of the soul (according to some fathers) particularly in Holy Baptism and in the life of grace as lived in the bosom of the Church. I have seen this many times.

  4. Mark Krause Avatar

    I’m currently reading Dostoevsky’s Bros. K. right now and the Orthodox view of forgivness makes so much more sense now. It’s really been a great preparation for forgiveness vespers and lent for me as a catechumen.

  5. Perry Robinson Avatar

    Fr. Freeman,

    How we miss the obvious. I have read the Gospels numerous times, but somehow I missed the connection or at least how to gloss it between forgiveness and healing. I do not mean that I was dense in that I saw no connection, but it takes time to unlearn views held in the past. Forgiveness is extrinsic, healing is intrinsic. The Gospels cut right across that divide and gives fuller content to justification.

  6. fatherstephen Avatar


    Indeed, I agree. Whatever justification is, it truly is intrinsic. Forgiveness is intrinsic. You can tell it deeply, when you’ve sinned against someone, humbled yourself before them and received forgiveness. It’s not forensic, it’s quite visceral. It’s one of the reasons I’ve never been able to buy into the extrinsic explanation of the atonement. It’s not enough. Thanks for the good comment!

  7. fatherstephen Avatar


    I also strongly recommend Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment to read for Lent. It is a truly great work on forgiveness (though this is a great theme throughout Dostoevsky – and is a great theme in Orthodoxy). I am not sure that forgiveness can be too radically practiced. I do know that every effort to put conditions on forgiveness will not in fact be forgiveness.

    I have suffered murders in my family – I am no stranger to misfortune – so that I do not speak lightly of forgiveness. The murderers went to jail – that is the role of the state – but forgiveness is God’s commandment to me. He never commanded me to see that justice gets done. Indeed, in this life we will not see a great deal of justice, and in the next I pray that I do not see justice – but mercy for I have no other hope.

    On Dostoevsky, if I may be so bold. I would recommend the translation by Larisa Volokhonsky. I do not think any others compare with it for accuracy and understanding of the Orthodoxy that underlies much of the writing. I think Vintage Classics publishes it.

  8. Rdr. Lucas Avatar
    Rdr. Lucas

    Re: atonement theories and certain ones’ inadequacies

    Metr. KALLISTOS gave a talk some years ago at St. Vlad’s on 5 Models of the Atonement. During it, he presented a wonderful list of questions for any model (that’s all any theory is, of course); they are–

    Does this particular model/theory of the atonement:
    1. Envisage a change in God, or in us?
    2. Separate Christ from the Father?
    3. Emphasize the Cross in isolation from the Incarnation & the Resurrection?
    4. Appeal primarily to our feelings & emotions; or, does it envisage a change in the state of the universe?

    He then dissects several popular theories of the atonement using these questions–it is a wonderful tool.

    the sinner,

  9. Kyrie-Eleison Avatar

    Dostoevsky and Lent. Hmm, that actually sounds wonderful. I’m a catechumen and I read The Brothers K a few months ago, but I’ve finished most of the books I’m reading and I’m up for some more Dostoevsky, he’s… to read him is great, I see in his books myself and so many that I know. Mostly myself though.

    I love the comment you made about “allee-allee-in-come-free”, too. I’ll have to tell that one to my Dad, he’d appreciate it too.

    Thankyou so much for writing in this blog, I read often but comment so infrequently.


  10. Karen C Avatar
    Karen C

    “I am not sure that forgiveness can be too radically practiced. I do know that every effort to put conditions on forgiveness will not in fact be forgiveness.”

    Amen! So very true! This also cuts to the heart of why I became Orthodox–I found the predominant model in western Atonement theory compromises our understanding of God’s motivation in the gospel and the radically free nature of His forgiveness and Self-giving for our well-being.

    Thank you, Father.

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