St. Macarius said, “If we remember the evil that others have done to us, we shut down our ability to remember God.”

From the Desert Fathers

Memory is a very powerful thing. The older I get, and the more of my earthly life lies behind me instead of before me, memory becomes indeed powerful. I have lived in my present home for almost 20 years, which, for a priest, can be quite a while. In the Orthodox life that we now live – I do not expect to be anywhere else in my lifetime.

Memory, like most things, has two sides. It can be the repository of blessings, the remembrance of the goodness of God, and it can be the repository of bitterness, the remembrance of wrongs. It is obvious in the life of the Church that we are given authority and grace to heal the remembrance of wrongs. Indeed, forgiveness (both of our own sins and those of others) seems to be precisely this power over the past – the grace of God working in us to heal what has been.

The remembrance of God has something which carries it beyond the past, however. In the Divine Liturgy, when the priest speaks the “words of remembrance” (“do this in remembrance of me”) he is not engaging in an act of recalling the past, but an act in which that which was spoken is made present reality. Christ is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. His life and actions are certainly historical, but, at the same time, they transcend any particular moment of history. The historical is united to the ahistorical: time and eternity find a union within Him.

By the same token, our “remembrance” of God is itself a union of time and eternity in which we (the timely) are united to the Eternal, and the timelessness of the Messianic Banquet is set before us. This is proper Christian eschatology (concern with the “last” things).

The remembrance of wrongs is an anti-eschatology. It seeks to make present that which has no true or proper existence. Evil certainly has tragic and destructive effects on the world, but it is still nothing. Evil is not a “something,” but merely the abuse of a free-will. It cannot truly destroy what God has established. It’s existence is a “false existence,” abiding only as a parasite on the truth of our existence.

Thus the remembrance of wrong “shuts down our ability to remember God,” not because we have put something else in God’s place, but because we have put “nothing” in God’s place. Forgiveness is the great tool of justice which God has given us. For with forgiveness we fill with goodness and the wholeness of love what before was only darkness and the emptiness of hatred and anger.

The good thief, crucified beside our Lord, found salvation “in a single moment.” His request, “Remember me when you come into Your kingdom,” is a confession of faith that recognizes that the remembrance of God, and the remembrance by God, is triumphant over every sin and every evil. It is the triumph of “that which is” over “that which is not.”

Paradise is never far away from us – it is in our hearts and on our lips as we remember God.

As the Romanian Elder Cleopa constantly greeted his disciples, “May paradise consume you!”

My it indeed consume us and with us sweep away every memory of wrong in the fullness of the remembrance of God.

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 “Remembrance”

  1. David Avatar

    Excellent post as always Father.

    What of our memory of the wrongs we’ve committed? Should they be ever before me or should they be out of sight as far as from the east is from the west?

  2. fatherstephen Avatar

    Out of sight – though the mark of humility should be the mark of the healing of such wounds.

  3. fatherstephen Avatar


    I have commented or written on this before – that our culture tends to have a very legal or forensic view of sin and therefore focuses on the event or the deed, etc. Today we have often psychologized that phenomenon, but without truly getting at the problem.

    Sin is similar to a disease at work in us – St. Paul uses the word “corruption” literally as in the “rotting of a corpse.” Thus this disease of death in which we are moving away from God and towards nothing is the most fundamental matter at hand. The things we do and say that we describe as “sins” are manifestations of this disease, this corruption at work in us. Thus, the point is not simply to have them “legally” removed, or even psychologically “forgotten” but for the grace of God to create in us a clean heart, renew a right spirit within us. That clean heart and right spirit are in the image of God, and thus properly have a humility that is not shame but self-emptying (Phil. 2:5-11). To remember God as He has made Himself known to us, is to remember Him (as in the liturgy) in His death and resurrection – and St. Paul even more succinctly says that in doing this we “show forth His death til’ He comes.” This is not a psychological remembrance, but a union of ourselves with the crucified Christ, entering with Him into the depths of Hades (death) that we might pray for all and with Him unite ourself to all. I’m repeating, here, the teaching of St. Silouan of Mt. Athos which itself is an echo of the fathers before him.

    Thus our remembrance of Christ and our forgiveness of sins plunge us into the depths of His love and into the depths to which His love carried Him.

  4. Ricky Irvine Avatar

    It also seems we could say we are to do nothing with our sin other than confess and repent of it. Saint Paul says in Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy — meditate on these things.”

  5. luciasclay Avatar

    The merging of remembrance with a literal reality in the present is astounding to me. I recall watching the liturgy and seeing the priest pronounce the words.

    Its incomprehensible yet true. Scripture declares this IS my body and this bread is it not the body of Christ. Tradition affirms this as well both eastern and western.

    Pray Father that I will come to fully understand.

  6. Stephen W Avatar
    Stephen W

    Fr. Steven,

    I believe that you summed up the entire gospel message and our relationship to it in such a concise and clear way. This will surely lead me towards true remembrance. I started reading “St. Silouan the Athonite” by Sophrony some weeks ago. After reading the first couple pages it became apparent that what I was reading was profound and would take me a lifetime to digest. The book was given to me as a gift about a year ago, shortly before I began reading your blog. It is interesting how certain things get reinforced in life. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to get beyond all categories and see a vision of a true ascetic and saint that has a burning love for God and others. Thanks again for your ongoing recommendations and desire for truth.

  7. Dean Arnold Avatar
    Dean Arnold

    LuciasClay says: “Pray Father that I will come to fully understand.”

    In liturgy this week, it occurred to me how much of the service centers around this mystery of eating and drinking Christ’s body and blood.

    We spend the majority of our time on an incomprehensible mystery. As a protestant, we spent the majority of our time providing rational answers to theological questions.

    Part of it is an issue of control. And we are not in control when the mystery continues to stump us (and energize us).

  8. Pastor Chad Avatar
    Pastor Chad

    As a protestant I find it incredibly rewarding to be reminded of the mystery of God. It sounds like you are saying that forgiveness is not so much an erasure of the error, but an erasure of the sinful self. This, of course, is indicated in the expression of Paul that we are crucified with Christ, and raised to new life. Forgiveness is not about the sin, but about the person. I think that is what makes remembrance so important, proper remembrance looks at the sin as though it was done by a different person (as indeed is was in one sense). But we are now a new creation in Christ, one which is being renewed more and more into his image.

    Remembering God and what he has done in Christ, is remembering what we have become, helping us put to death what we were.

  9. David Avatar

    I thought I understood what you wrote Father, but after rereading it, I don’t.

    Sin seems to be many things and none of them at the same time. Sin is an ontology, that is a state of being. Sin is a symptom of a disease, something we suffer from. Sin is a debt, something we owe. And sin is an act, a disobedience or offense (I suppose the western, legal issue comes from this). The scripture includes all of these. Now, the first might be the truth and the others simply manifestations of the truth (the first being Elephant and the others being trunk, tail or leg). But they are still are parts of the whole.

    This seems a distraction from my real point though.

    I’m struggling through praying the psalms as much as I can. And I keep getting hammered with “God evil people suck, protect me from them and squash them”, but more importantly “God I suck, save me.”

    I was thinking about this in the Liturgy Sunday. I have a tendency to stare at the floor. An intense self-judgment (and gut feeling) that I suck and shouldn’t be looking up at the alter or the icons. But then I remember that the icons are there for my benefit, revealing Heaven in the midst of the temple (not above it like western Churches) and that they have salvific value and so I try to raise my eyes to look on them to gain such value.

    But I am caught. Both judgments and feelings tare me. I want to look down and up at once. What can a stained carpet do for my soul? Yet, what should some one such as I look at but filthy carpet.

    I want to weep over my sin, but be joyous in Christ’s Pascha. How does one do both, or is the heart a flickering candle ever dancing between both? Sometimes I wonder the wisdom of the Church that had catechumen stay in the nave. Because each time when I cross the threshold I feel like I’m punched in the chest.

  10. fatherstephen Avatar

    It’s both and more. We give ourselves to God – and it’s little wonder that we say “Lord, have mercy” as many times as we do in the Liturgy.

    I think when we speak theologically about sin – there is an ontology – or an anthropology – best articulated in works like St. Athanasius’ On the Incarnation, or as so carefully developed in St. Maximus the Confessor’s work.

    Other images (debt, etc.) I tend to see more metaphorically, and in some cases minimize because of the cultural baggage that goes along with it.

    On the Psalms. They should be read spiritually. Smash the other guy, means smash the passions in me, or the demons that tempt me. Not actually, smash the other guy. The Psalms would be unreadable as doctrine were they not read Christologically (and thus spiritually as opposed to literally).

  11. Jason Avatar

    Your post gives a richer meaning to the teaching I was raised in. I am writing in particular about the passages that describe evil in contrast to good. I was a Christian Scientist as a child and struggled with the “nothingness” of evil (among other concepts). ‘Concept’ may have been the crux of my misunderstanding. I was concentrating on ideas rather than remenbering God’s love in Christ. Evil in the world and in my heart, is certainly a tragedy, but is more than overcome by the Savior. May Christ have mercy.

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