Forgive Everyone for Everything

In Dostoevsky’s great last work, The Brothers Karamazov, the story is told of Markel, brother of the Elder Zossima. Diagnosed with tuberculosis, he is dying. In those last days he came to a renewed faith in God and a truly profound understanding of forgiveness. In a conversation with his mother she wonders how he can possibly be so joyful in so serious a stage of his illness. His response is illustrative of the heart of the Orthodox Christian life.

 ‘Mama,’ he replied to her, ‘do not weep, life is paradise, and we are all in paradise, but we don’t want to realize it, and if we did care to realize it, paradise would be established in all the world tomorrow.’ And we all wondered at his words, so strangely and so resolutely did he say this; we felt tender emotion and we wept….’Dear mother, droplet of my blood,’ he said (at that time he had begun to use endearments of this kind, unexpected ones), ‘beloved droplet of my blood, joyful one, you must learn that of a truth each of us is guilty before all for everyone and everything. I do not know how to explain this to you, but I feel that it is so, to the point of torment. And how could we have lived all this time being angry with one another and knowing nothing of this?’ [He spoke even of being guilty before the birds and all creation] …’Yes, he said, ‘all around me there has been such divine glory: birds, trees, meadows, sky, and I alone have lived in disgrace, I alone have dishonored it all, completely ignoring its beauty and glory.’ ‘You take too many sins upon yourself,’ dear mother would say, weeping. ‘But dear mother, joy of my life. I am crying from joy, and not from grief; why, I myself want to be guilty before them, only I cannot explain it to you, for I do not know how to love them. Let me be culpable before all, and then all will forgive me, and that will be paradise. Am I not in paradise now?’

As difficult as it may sound, the reality described by Dostoevsky can be summed up very simply: forgive everyone for everything. Stated in such a blunt fashion, such a goal is overwhelming. How can I forgive everyone for everything? This life of forgiveness, which is nothing other than the life of Christ within us, is our inheritance in the faith. The life of blame, recrimination, bitterness, anger, revenge and the like are not the life of Christ, but simply the ragings of our own egos, the false self which we exalt over our true life which is “hid with Christ in God.”

The rightness of a cause, or the correctness of our judgment do not justify nor change the nature of our ragings. For none of us can stand before God and be justified – except as we give ourselves to the life of Christ, who is our only righteousness.

The question of forgiveness is not a moral issue. We do not forgive because it is the “correct” thing to do. We forgive because it is the true nature of the life in Christ. As Dostoevsky describes it: it is Paradise. In the same manner, the refusal to forgive, the continuation of blame, recrimination, bitterness, etc., are not moral failings. They are existential crises – drawing us away from the life of Christ and Paradise, and ever deeper into an abyss of non-being.

I have lately spent some of myprayer-time each day with a modified form of the ‘Jesus Prayer.’ It runs, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner, and forgive all those who hate me or do me harm. Forgive them freely without reproach and grant me true repentance.” I offer no great authority for this prayer – indeed, as I pray it, I find that it changes from time to time. But it is a way of offering prayer for my enemies – of teaching my heart to “forgive everyone for everything.”

There is a further thought that is of great importance. Forgiveness and unforgiveness are not private matters. As Christ taught the Apostles, “Whosoever sins you loose are loosed, and whosoever sins you retain are retained.” This, of course, has a particular meaning for the Apostolic ministry given to the Church. But it also alludes to another reality. My refusal to forgive is a force for evil in this world – binding both myself and others around me. It may not be an intentional binding – but bind it will. In the same manner, forgiveness is the introduction of Paradise into this world – both for myself and for others around me. Whether I intend it or not, Paradise comes as a fruit of such love.

Forgive everyone for everything. Will we not be in Paradise?

This week I have been in Dallas, Texas, for the funeral of Archbishop Dmitri, beloved Apostle to the South. At the conclusion of the funeral vigil (as is normally the case for all Orthodox Christians) the primary celebrant of the service comes to the open coffin of the deceased. Placing his stole over the head of the body, he reads the words of the final absolution (this same prayer is used in the sacrament of Holy Unction).

May our Lord Jesus Christ, by His divine grace, and also by the gift and power given unto His holy Disciples and Apostles, that they should bind and loose the sins of men (For He said unto them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whosoever’s sins you remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosoever’s sins you retain, they are retained” (John 20:22-23). “And whatsoever you shall bind or loose on earth shall be bound or loosed in Heaven” (Matt. 18:18) and which also has been handed down to us from them as their successors, absolve this my spiritual child, N., through me who am unworthy, from all things wherein, as a human, he has sinned against God, whether by word or deed, wheher by thought and with all his senses, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, whether by knowledge or in ignorance. And if he be under the ban or excommunication of a Bishop or of a Priest; or if he has brought upon himself the curse of his father or mother; or has fallen under his own curse; or has transgressed by any oath; or has been bound, as a human, by any sins whatsoever, but has repented of these with a contrite heart, may He absolve him also from all these faults and bonds. And may all those things that proceed from the infirmity of human nature be given over unto oblivion and may He forgive him everything, for the sake of His Love for Mankind, through the prayers of our most-holy and most-blessed Sovereign Lady, the Theotokos and ever-Virgin Mary, of the holy, glorious and all-praised Apostles, and of all the Saints. Amen.

We who expect to receive such great mercy at the time of our own death – should we not extend the same mercy to all while we are yet among them?

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.



98 responses to “Forgive Everyone for Everything”

  1. Russ Mangiapane Avatar
    Russ Mangiapane

    “I believe! Help my unbelief!” and “Lord open my eyes that I might see” are the only prayers I can utter after reading the excerpt from ‘The Brothers Karamazov’. I don’t fully understand what Markel is saying, but I want to. It sheds some light for me, however, on why I have seen Fr.Stephen close some responses with “May paradise consume us”.

  2. The Pilgrim Avatar

    Father Bless!

    “These are hard things to hear…”
    It is only in the last couple of years that Ihave begun to try to forgive a wrong in my youth that bound me to a man long gone from this world. It has been a struggle for me, so thank you for your revised Jesus Prayer; I will start using it tonight.

  3. fatherstephen Avatar

    The Elder Cleopa of Romania always greeted people with the saying, “May paradise consume you!” I must admit, I believe quite literally that if we forgave everyone for everything we would indeed see paradise and know it immediately in our heart. We settle for so much less, when Christ means to give us so much more. It is similar to St. Seraphim’s “Acquire the Spirit of peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved.” It is certainly the case that we cannot acquire that Spirit unless we repent and forgive.

  4. Lina Avatar

    A long time ago I was taught, “Keep a short grudge list.” It works.

  5. Kathy Avatar

    How strange. Today I forgave the man who molested my mother and brought so much sorrow to her life and consequently, to my life. Then I immediately read this post — a description of what I had just done and the reasons why I forgave him. I even ended my prayer of forgiveness with “May Paradise consume him.”

    Fr. Stephen, your blog is a remarkable place.

  6. Andrew Avatar

    “Forgive everyone for everything” Too simple and too beautiful. You have touched on something I find the hardest to do, praying for “those that hate and wrong me” I like your modified Jesus Prayer response and may try that from time to time. Thanks as always for your insight.


  7. Margaret Avatar

    Thank you for this beautiful post. Thank you also for your comment here, Fr. Stephen, when you remind us that “We settle for so much less, when Christ means to give us so much more.” It seems that you’ve posted on that specific truth before, also, could you re-post or comment again on this? I do not usually equate forgiveness of others with receiving more from God, but it is so true, as God has helped me to truly forgive and paradise has flowed. Thank you for the reminder and the encouragement!

  8. Mary Ann Avatar
    Mary Ann

    It would be prideful to forgive everyone everything without asking forgiveness of everyone for everything.

  9. fatherstephen Avatar

    I would disagree in the sense that such forgiveness is the problem in one’s own heart. I can forgive someone without them ever knowing. “Forgive them for they know not what they do.” However if you need to ask their forgiveness for what you have against them, of course you should ask their forgiveness. Two different situations. Also, re-reading I see your point more clearly. If you read the excerpt from Dostoevsky, then you’ll see that Markel states that “each one is guilty of everything,” such that our communion as human beings makes me a participant in the life of all (including in their sins).

    In his book, Crime and Punishment, the character Raskolnikov has killed to women. The girl who becomes the love of his life (and spiritual salvation) tells him “to beg forgiveness of the earth for spilling blood on it.” It’s something of a theme in Dostoevsky’s writings, and when read in the context of the fathers of the Church, quite Orthodox. To forgive others as though you yourself have nothing that needs forgiveness would indeed be prideful – but our forgiveness of everyone for everything flows from understanding that I, too, belong to everyone and everything.

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  10. Jim Swindle Avatar

    “The question of forgiveness is not a moral issue. We do not forgive because it is the “correct” thing to do. We forgive because it is the true nature of the life in Christ.”

    These are excellent and true words.

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  12. Ryan Avatar

    Father, what does it mean to forgive? How do I know that I have forgiven someone?


  13. fatherstephen Avatar

    Ultimately, what we forgive is the rupture in communion that has taken place because of someone’s action, our reaction, etc. To forgive is, on some level, to reestablish communion. There are cases where we legitimately fear for our safety – forgiveness does not require that we put ourselves back into such a position – at least it is not something demanded of us. But it does involve some level of risk – emotional, etc.

    The substitute is for there to be no communion whatsoever – in which we have essentially decided that for us, someone else doesn’t exist. I don’t think such a thing is an option for me as a Christian. I cannot will the nonexistence of someone else. Christ did not will my nonexistence. Thus, if I will follow Christ, I have to be willing to give my life and that of my enemy over to Him. I give my enemy to Christ, not for his/her destruction, but for their salvation and healing. I will them good. This is often a slow, uneven journey – but to accept that journey and begin is to embrace the salvation of the world – including our own.

    I should add that this is a struggle and a journey for me – and for virtually everyone I can think of. Otherwise I would already be in Paradise. But to embrace the journey of forgiveness, without trying to excuse myself from that possibility is the only way forward. I do not choose the solitude and emptiness of unforgiveness – it’s a form of hell that I wish for no one.

  14. davidperi Avatar

    Wow…the ragings of our ego. Well put!!

  15. sqktong Avatar

    Father, what does it mean to forgive? How do I know that I have forgiven someone?

  16. Meg Lark Avatar

    My own priest, when I confessed unforgiveness, asked, “Do you wish your enemies harm? Do you wish them to spend eternity in hell?” If you can answer “No” to these questions, it’s at least a beginning. After all, when you ask God to have mercy on someone — His definition of “mercy” isn’t always our definition of “mercy.” It works as a starting point for me. Love your modified Jesus Prayer, Father, and will begin to incorporate it when I pray for my enemies!

  17. Lina Avatar

    Somewhere back in my past I learned a two step process for practicing forgiveness.

    1. Acknowledge to God that my spirit, soul and possibly my body has been hurt. “I hurt God. Please heal my hurt. ”

    2. Ask God to forgive the person who caused the hurt. On the cross, Jesus said “Father forgive…” He didn’t say “I forgive.”

  18. MrsMutton Avatar

    That’s a good point. Who are we to forgive? That’s God’s perogative. But if we ask Him to have mercy, that’s the one prayer He can’t refuse, because having mercy is so integral to His nature.

  19. fatherstephen Avatar

    “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Forgiveness is not merely God’s perogative, it’s His commandment to us.

  20. MrsMutton Avatar

    Father Stephen — true. But it was my priest who told me that God forgives, and we should ask Him to do the forgiving.

  21. fatherstephen Avatar

    I would not want to contradict another priest – but the commandments within Scripture would seem to indicate that there is indeed an important role that we must take in forgiveness – including that we forgive. There are two versions of the Absolution of Sins used by priests in the Orthodox Church – one has “may God forgive” (or words to that effect) another has “by the grace and power granted to me a most unworthy priest, I forgive you of all your sins.” Another Scripture, “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Mat 6:14-15 NKJ) And from the parable of the unjust steward in Matt. 18 – “And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.” (Mat 18:34-35) And in Luke 6 “Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” (Luk 6:37)

    I’m sure your priest had a point and understanding he was offering, and I would encourage you to follow his guidance. However, I could not generalize from his statement without ignoring a number of Scriptures, and the teaching and practice of many fathers.

  22. MrsMutton Avatar

    Put it this way: I think that in our zeal to follow our Lord’s commandments, it can be easy to suggest to people that they need to forgive what is patently unforgivable, such as abuse of any kind, or violence done to one’s person or a loved one. To attempt forgiveness of such things *is* harmful to the victim. What is beneficial is, as Lina suggested, to acknowledge the damage done, and to ask God to offer healing to oneself and forgiveness to the person who did the harm. If our Lord requires more, He will supply the wherewithal to manage it. But I also think that for such people, sometimes the most cooperation one can offer God is to consent to get up in the morning and go to be at night without having attempted suicide. Do you really think our Lord requires more than that?

  23. fatherstephen Avatar

    Actually, I don’t think of these matters as “requirements.” The commandments of God are not properly thought of as laws – but the gift of life. I readily agree that there are situations in which the most we can do, given the state of our heart and the evil that surrounds us, is make it through the day, guarding our heart as best we can by God’s grace from hatred, etc. What I am saying is that God has more for us than we imagine and grace does what we cannot do alone. The extreme situations, in which careful guidance with a good priest or spiritual father is required, are just that, extrreme situations. Some things take a long and careful time to heal. But the most common things in our lives are situations rooted in the passions, in the false self, as some Orthodox teachers describe it, and our clinging to envy, hatred, anger, recrimination, etc., is simply our clinging to the distortion of our passions.

    Forgiveness of enemies is not a legal or forensic matter – it is one aspect of the Life of God. God forgives. God loves. As we grow more fully into union with Christ and His Life becomes more fully our life, many things, including the possibility of forgiveness in a measure unimagined, become possible. With men, as Christ says, it is impossible. We do not do these things of our own selves or apart from Christ, but we do them because Christ within us does them.

    Christ does not require more – He makes possible what is impossible. But no one should torture themselves in this – we do each day what we can each day, by God’s grace.

  24. Andrew Battenti Avatar

    I once went to confess and heard instead the priest confess. Where there is forgiveness, it is the spirit of God that is being manifest. Amen.

  25. Thomas Snowdon Avatar
    Thomas Snowdon

    Thank you, Father Stephen.

  26. Alexander Avatar

    Many thanks for these words of deep wisdom.

  27. Georges Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,
    Isn’t the repentance of the sinner an essential part of one’s being able to forgive? Is it really right to forgive a person if that person shows no signs of contrition or repentance?
    Finally, does there not come a time when one has a duty to treat the unrepentant sinner “as a publican and a tax collector”, that is, to tie what needs to be tied for justice to be done?
    My feeling is that Dostoevski’s notions of universal and unconditional forgiveness of sins presages the unorthodox and quite possibly heretical notion of universal salvation described at a later part of Brothers Karamazov (possibly by Alyosha).

  28. pauldeljunco Avatar

    This is a beautiful reflection.

    I would just add this to what Father Stephen says about forgiveness being Paradise. The cost of paradise is the Cross of Christ. God is love. The cost of God loving us is his self emptying in the incarnation culminating in his passion and total dereliction on the Cross. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This is the cost of God forgiving us. This is the cost of Christ’s total identification with our fallen humanity. In order to win Paradise for us, he has to enter our hell where we are totally bereft not only of God’s presence but of life itself. Christ offers us this free gift of forgiveness and salvation without reservation and with only one condition–that we let our hearts be broken open in repentance to receive this forgiveness (“a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” Ps 50) and in like manner forgive others. In truly repenting and receiving God’s forgiveness, we then forgive others. In a sense it’s automatic. We simply can’t receive God’s forgiveness without forgiving others. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” The cost of our own repentance and forgiving others is our share in the Cross of Christ.

    And this also shows the intimate connection between repentance and forgiveness. We can’t forgive others unless we repent of our own hardness of heart that we don’t even want to forgive!

    I am just trying to point out how hard it is and why so few are willing to pay the price of Paradise, at least in our short time in this world.

    But it’s so simple. Why is so rarely even preached? Why do we simply fail to understand this when we evade the simple truth of “Love your enemies”? The answer is very simple, if also very tragic. We don’t want to pay the price of God’s becoming one of us. We don’t want to pay the price of the Cross.


  29. Dumbo Avatar

    Very well put Paul, though, If I may put it so bluntly, the cross does not enter into competition with itself. Without humility, it (the cross) is pure vanity (evil); bereft of the life of the resurrection, it is ridiculed.

    God forbid that it be so. I look at the poor and the broken, and there I see Christ crucified. There too, I see his resurrection.


  30. Anon Avatar

    “My feeling is that Dostoevski’s notions of universal and unconditional forgiveness of sins presages the unorthodox and quite possibly heretical notion of universal salvation described at a later part of Brothers Karamazov (possibly by Alyosha).”

    Putting aside the issue of universalism and Orthodoxy, what chapter of the book are you referring to?

  31. Georges Avatar

    I thought it was something meatier, but I think here: “Certainly we shall all rise again, certainly we shall see each other and shall tell each other with joy and gladness all that has happened!” Alyosha answered, half laughing, half enthusiastic.

    “Ah, how splendid it will be!” broke from Kolya.

    (last chapter of the book — Chapter III. Ilusha’s Funeral. The Speech At The Stone)

  32. fatherstephen Avatar

    I ask pardon of all – a tree fell across our road last night and I was without electricity from about 5:30 until this morning. Very frustrating when the conversation on the blog is adding up.

    But, the repentance of a sinner is likely important for his own reception of forgiveness – but is not necessary for our own act of forgiveness towards them. If it were, then the sinners would rule the world and even the Kingdom of God. Christ forgives from the Cross without the world repenting. He forgives the paralytic who had uttered no word of repentance, etc. Full reconciliation between two people does require something from both – but our forgiveness and ability to forgive come from God.

    The passages in the gospels about “treating someone as a publican and a tax collector,” are clearly aimed only at the discipline of the Church (go to him, then take others with you, etc.). This is a discipline that you can’t practice with non-believers, per se. But even then, when, there is discipline for heretics, etc., does not mean that in our heart we should not forgive, nor hate them because they are heretics, etc. Unforgiveness in the heart is a poison – and God does not direct us to drink poison (despite things you may have heard about some Christians in East Tennessee).

    Dostoevsky certainly leans towards a possible universal salvation – but only in an Orthodox manner. The “leaning” seems to be quite present throughout Orthodox history. St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Isaac of Syria, St. Silouan of Mt. Athos, (and many great spiritual fathers) certainly leaned in that way. How can love not lean in that direction. Even God Himself “is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” That some might be lost also seems to be quite likely (based on what is revealed in Scripture) but that should be heard and considered with deep grief and a greater urge to pray for the salvation of all. Any satisfaction with the death of a sinner is not from God. Orthodoxy, not being dominated by a legal or forensic model of salvation, has a much greater tolerance for the longings of the heart. It also has very little to say about certain matters. The condemnation of Origen (posthumously) was by no means based primarily on his teachings about the apokatastasis (universalism). It’s simply that one should tread very lightly and undogmatically around things that have not been given to us as dogma.

  33. Dumbo Avatar

    Thank you Father Stephen. I am in very good company it appears :).

  34. […] else’s writing, I just link to their post with some introductory text; but in this case, this blog post from Fr. Stephen Freeman is very special to me, and I wish keep it as close as possible, both here […]

  35. Karen Avatar

    Thank you, Father. Good clarification for George, too. This is such an achingly beautiful truth, but very difficult to live–impossible apart from the full revelation of God’s grace.

  36. […] Stephen, who needs no introduction has done it again in this unforgettable piece titled Forgive Everyone for Everything. This paragraph bears much repeating, short as it is There is a further thought that is of great […]

  37. asinusspinasmasticans Avatar

    For some reason, it is very easy for me to forgive a wrong done to me, but to forgive a wrong done to a loved one, especially a child, is not so easy.

    There is a man of my acquaintance who was a homosexual pedophile. He went from Scout troup to Scout troup doing horrible amount of damage to the lives of many young boys. Something like bile rises in my throat when I think about his actions, and I demand justice! justice! be done. Indeed, the demand for justice is as urgent and as blinding as any sexual pressure I felt as a young man in my twenties. When I survey the damage he did, it is hard not to demand that he repay every penny.

    Yet, as he confessed to me, he was in the grip of something he could no more control than I could control blinking my eye when someone stuck a finger into it. He confided in me, asked for my prayers, and I withheld them, so who is the monster?

  38. Dumbo Avatar

    Forgive me for intruding asinusspinasmasticans — I’d hazard a guess and say that you both appear to be victims of the same delusion. A delusion being of course nothing than a lie. You were also more than likely strung along.

  39. fatherstephen Avatar


    Those are touch situations. As a priest, I would want to offer forgiveness, though the penance (epitimia) I would probably require would be that he turn himself in and ask for help. If I knew a man with a gun that was always going off, I’d intervene in the same way. This is the normative guideline for confession in such situations.

  40. fatherstephen Avatar

    Dumbo, (is that an ethnic name?)
    Don’t know about delusion here – but the guidelines for confession (and absolution) are quite obvious. Oddly, lying may be the most serious delusion of all (and thus to be explored and taken very seriously).

  41. Ann Avatar

    I have been struggling with this for decades. I have come to the conclusion that fine distinctions are called for. Some modern writings on forgiveness are mushy and end up promoting injustice and enabling.

    The Pope on forgiveness as found in the link”

    “”The Church acknowledges this principle. In his encyclical Dives in Misericordia, John Paul II notes that the “requirement of forgiveness does not cancel out the objective requirements of justice. . . . In no passage of the gospel message does forgiveness, or mercy as its source, mean indulgence toward evil, toward scandals, toward injury or insult. In any case, reparation for evil and scandal, compensation for injury, and satisfaction for insult are conditions for forgiveness” (DM 14).

    Preemptive Forgiveness?

    We aren’t obligated to forgive people who do not want us to. This is one of the biggest stumbling blocks that people have regarding the topic. People have seen “unconditional” forgiveness and love hammered so often that they feel obligated to forgive someone even before that person has repented. Sometimes they even tell the unrepentant that they have preemptively forgiven him (much to the impenitent’s annoyance).

    This is not what is required of us.”

  42. fatherstephen Avatar

    The manner in which the pope (which one?) speaks concerning forgiveness and justice are simply incompatible with how Orthodoxy understands the question – particularly the matter of justice. Justice would be largely absent, even entirely absent, in most Orthodox treatments. Forgiveness is not a forensic category in Orthodox thought – or the best of Orthodox thought – but rather a description of an ontological category. It is a typical place where conversation between East and West simply break down. St. Isaac the Syrian (a major father for the East) says, “We know nothing of God’s justice.”

  43. Ben Dunlap Avatar
    Ben Dunlap

    That was an excerpt from the Slavic Pope John Paul II’s “Dives in Misericordia”, section 14.

    I suspect, Father, that you might find the encyclical to be much more agreeable to Eastern sensibilities than you might imagine. The quotation above is basically a parenthesis in a lengthy treatment of ideas like this:

    “True mercy is, so to speak, the most profound source of justice.”

    And again:

    “Mercy that is truly Christian is … also the most perfect incarnation of justice”

    And also this somewhat mysterious gem:

    “An act of merciful love is only really such when we are deeply convinced at the moment that we perform it that we are at the same time receiving mercy from the people who are accepting it from us. If this bilateral and reciprocal quality is absent, our actions are not yet true acts of mercy, nor has there yet been fully completed in us that conversion to which Christ has shown us the way by His words and example, even to the cross, nor are we yet sharing fully in the magnificent source of merciful love that has been revealed to us by Him.”

  44. David Robles Avatar

    Father bless!
    The person that hurt me yesterday, hurt me today and will hurt me tomorrow, I want to forgive this person but I’m not sure I have done so because there is resentment in my heart. This has been going on for 12 years. I am not free to move away. I do not want God to punish this person for his hostility towards me. I do not think there is anything I can do, about changing anything in me, that will make him love me. This person’s contempt seems to arise from the very core of his being. It is something scary and unrelenting. How can I best protect my heart from bitterness? Someone once told me, “You protect yourself with love” But I have been praying for this love. God knows my situation and my helplessness. He allows everything that happens to us so He must know about my suffering and allows it.
    I’m not sure I like that. It feels so cruel. I know there is an Akathist to the Softener of Evil Hearts (the Theotokos). I know it must be pride, but I get really angry when I realize how helpless I am in this situation. There is no where to go. If you would be willing I would like to exchange a couple of e-mails with you in private. I realize you must be extremely busy and this may not be possible. Reading this post and your responses promises to provide some options for me. I really want to enter into a way of life of forgiveness, to achieve a change in my inner being capable of living my situation in peace. God help me!


  45. fatherstephen Avatar

    David, email hidden; JavaScript is required

  46. fatherstephen Avatar

    I imagine you are right. I’m probably the last person to correct comment on a papal encyclical. No experience with them. Thanks for the helping suggestion.

  47. Karen Avatar

    Anne, forgive me my boldness to reply here, but I believe you are profoundly mistaken that we are not obligated to forgive someone who does not ask (or want) our forgiveness. As Fr. Stephen has pointed out, this is a requirement for our very participation in the life of God (our salvation)–this all-merciful love *is* the very nature of God’s Being and of His “justice.” God’s forgiveness (in terms of His attitude toward us and free extending of His love) most definitely precedes our repentance as Scripture speaks of the mystery of our redemption in Christ as the “Lamb slain *before the foundation of the world.*”

    Perhaps the problem enters when we think of the nature of God’s mercy and forgiveness as *enabling* evil, however. Perhaps this is where your understanding of the unconditional love and forgiveness commanded by Christ in the Gospels (as well as that of many, if not most, Christians trained in western theological traditions) and that of the Eastern Church part ways. From an Orthodox perspective, it is our own personal sin, *by its very nature/definition* and to the extent that it dominates us personally, that does not permit us to participate in God, in His mercy and forgiveness (though these are at every moment being fully extended toward us). Extending forgiveness to an unrepentant person only provides the optimal condition (and in the case of God’s forgiveness, the necessary condition) wherein he can repent and personally appropriate the benefits of repentance–it does not guarantee that he will; in other words, in no way does this eliminate the natural consequences of personal choices (as we see in Christ’s parable of the forgiven debtor, for example), including alienation from the life (will, mercy, and forgiveness) of God.

    In this sense, it is true that one who does not repent will not be forgiven by God–but in the Eastern tradition, ultimately this means it is because there is something fundamentally *within the unrepentant person* that does not allow him to participate in God and experience the benefits of God’s forgiveness. It does *not* mean that God, for His part, alters His attitude or will and thereby withholds His mercy from such a sinner. It is for this reason we are commanded by Christ to love as we have been loved and forgive as we have been forgiven, and yet we confront the paradox of “neither shall My Father in heaven forgive you if you do not forgive your brother from your heart” (Matthew 18:35, Mark 11:25-26). Christ’s words from the Cross still reveal the bottom line truth about God’s eternal intention and attitude toward the fallen sinner: “Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they are doing.” As the Apostle declares in Romans 5:8 , “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that *while we were still sinners,* Christ died for us.” We are called to go and do the same. I hope this helps to clarify things a little.

  48. Karen Avatar

    One further addendum to my comment to Anne, which I gleaned from a counselor who works with survivors of abuse: With regard to our relationships with our offending brothers–with those who abuse us, we cannot be healed and freed from the consequences of the abuse apart from doing the hard work to forgive our abusers unconditionally. This does not mean, however, that full intimacy of relationship and communion with such an abuser is automatically restored. For that, repentance from wrongdoing on the part of the offender is also absolutely required, and the formula would look something like this: Forgiveness + repentance = reconciliation. We are responsible to remove only the obstacles to reconciliation with others that are within our own hearts whether that be a lack of forgiveness and an attitude of resentment, accusation, and judgment or of other kinds of sins. In terms of the sins that occur in our more ordinary relationships with others, there is generally an ongoing need for both repentance and forgiveness on both sides for deepening of relationship and communion.

  49. Ann Avatar

    Karen, I appreciate your thoughtful posts. This is a most difficult issue.

    Father Stephen addressed the issue from the Orthodox point of view and said that the East knows nothing of God’s justice.

    I am no theologian, but I believe the Western Church does know of God’s justice.

    I just looked in my Catholic bible under the word forgiveness.
    It is the New American Bible.

    There is a section on forgiveness by God and one on forgiving one another, which at this moment is of concern to us.
    “The actual act of forgiveness SHOULD be preceded by repentance on the part of the offender; it is only by the mutual understanding of both that right relations may be restored.’ It is substaniated by Scripture.

    I understand this to mean that we need not, but we may, under certain circumstances forgive the unrepentent, but we certainly are not required to do so.

    I must go further however, and say that if forgiveness means not seeking revenge as I have read then we need to have a definition of forgiveness and perhaps other concepts to really follow our Lord’s command.

  50. allan Avatar

    the issue of forgiveness is one of the greatest thing a person can know. We pray that we can all easily forgive

  51. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman


    On the Cross, Jesus forgave us all as yet unrepentent sinners. In fact, we can never repent fully for our sins. As Shakespeare said: ”
    In the course of justice, none of us should see salvation” That reflects the reality of our salvation.

    In the Lord’s Prayer we entreat God us to forgive us only to the extent that we have forgiven others.

    When we forgive others, we are loosed in heaven and on earth from our own judgements on them whether the other person(s) involved even know or care (although it will also effect them). We are then able to partake of God’s forgiveness for ourselves as we repent. The other people are likewise called to repent. Sometimes that means the parties involved will seek mutal reconcilliation, but often that is not possible. When such reconcilliation occurs it is a great blessing, but even without it we are no less commanded to forgive because, unlike our Lord, our own sinfulness is involved in the hurts and offenses we experience in our lives. The greatest sin, however, is to hold on to those hurts. The fathers called it ‘the rememberance of wrongs’. Even if we do not seek actual vengence in such a state, it is indicative of a vengful heart.

    The Orthodox understanding of God’s justice rests in His perfect love and perfect knowledge or our hearts. We are required to forgive/repent to participate in His life which is also His justice. It is the participation in His life that is paradise–a real ontological union with our Lord.

  52. Karen Avatar

    Thanks, Ann (sorry about the name misspelling). I should also explain that I was raised and spent most of my life in the western Christian tradition. I agree this is a difficult issue, not difficult to understand perhaps (especially within an Orthodox Christian framework of Scripture’s interpretation, and with the Orthodox interpretation of the nature and meaning of the Incarnation and atonement of Christ in view), but certainly difficult to live and apply.

    The entry from your Bible I think speaks to the point the counselor to whom I referred in my addendum made about how things work in terms of *reconciliation* and healing in interpersonal relationships–and I don’t think that Fr. Stephen would intend to contradict this. As I understand things, Fr. Stephen’s post deals, rather, with the issue of healing *within* the individual human heart–to look at what Christ teaches brings us each personally into true union with God, i.e., what we need to take responsibility for *within ourselves.*

    In Orthodoxy, true forgiveness is not confused with a fully actualized reconciliation. It is not defined in terms of actual restored relationship, though, obviously, forgiveness in this sense is a necessary precondition for such restoration. Rather, for the Orthodox forgiveness implies a releasing of one’s right to revenge and a predisposition to restore the relationship if conditions for that are realized (i.e., the offending party repents). But I believe even from a western Christian perspective, if you define forgiveness as a predisposition of the heart, if Jesus could insist that we love our enemies, pray for those who despitefully use us, and bless those who persecute us, as is clearly at the very heart of His teaching in the Gospels, freely extended forgiveness as a predisposition of the heart is definitely implied. This is perhaps best illustrated in Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son, where the nature and meaning of God’s love and forgiveness is illustrated in the character of the father.

    This father, even in the wake of the most heinous of sins represented in the actions of the younger son, continued ever to scan the horizon awaiting the return of his prodigal child. He did the unthinkable for a middle-eastern patriarch in terms of his utter disregard for his own dignity when he hitched up his skirts and ran to meet his son the moment he saw him in the distance on the way home. He did not even wait for his son to finish his carefully prepared speech before he called for an extravagant celebration on behalf of the son “who was dead and is alive, and who was lost and now is found.” It is interesting that there is no restitution required from the son–the Father immediately and unconditionally and with overflowing joy restores to him all the inheritance of his sonship.

    I’m indebted here in my understanding of this parable to a beautiful article written some years ago for “Christianity Today” by a missionary to the middle-east as to how this son’s and father’s actions would have been understood within the culture of those to whom Jesus spoke, and which puts the outrageous extravagance of the Father’s forgiveness and utterly humble love for his son into particularly high relief. This is how Jesus represents the character and disposition of His Father with respect to the worst of sinners. It seems to me this is what God’s “justice,” fully realized, looks like (i.e., it transcends all our human notions of “justice,” which is the point St. Isaac the Syrian makes, to whom Fr. Stephen refers in one of his earlier comments).

    If you’re interested in exploring this topic further, St. Isaac the Syrian’s writings may be of interest.

  53. Ann Avatar

    You said:

    ”On the Cross, Jesus forgave us all as yet unrepentent sinners.”

    BUT our salvation depends on repentence and reparation to the extent of our ability. Jesus is not confined to sequential time and therefore your argument limps.

    I understand how difficult this is for us all.


  54. Ann Avatar

    Karen, I do not think that in the new dispensation we any longer have a right to revenge.

    And is not that exactly what forgiveness is? A refusal to pursue revenge.

    Unfortunately if that is true, then the idea that repentence must preceed forgiveness would allow us to indeed pursue revenge up until the time the perpetrator repents.

    Again, we really need some helps with words and concepts and some very definitive theology so that we may follow our Lord while doing mercy and justice.

    I await the geniuses among us. Confusion reigns in our minds.

  55. Paul del Junco Avatar

    Fr Stephen said:
    “IThe manner in which the pope (which one) speaks concerning forgiveness and justice are simply incompatible with how Orthodoxy understands the question – particularly the matter of justice. Justice would be largely absent, even entirely absent, in most Orthodox treatments. Forgiveness is not a forensic category in Orthodox thought – or the best of Orthodox thought – but rather a description of an ontological category. It is a typical place where conversation between East and West simply break down. St. Isaac the Syrian (a major father for the East) says, “We know nothing of God’s justice.””

    I agree with what you say about forgiveness but disagree that it is essentially an Orthodox vs Catholic issue. Many Catholics, I’m sure even popes, have had beautiful things to say about the need for forgiveness in the ontological way you describe The Orthodox can be plenty juridical in their own right–they’re simply not as centralized in their pronouncements. Who is to say what is an essential Orthodox teaching, especially since their is no pope?!

    The issue is a Christian one, and all churches/ecclesial bodies/jurisdictions/whatever need to repent of their betrayal of their understanding, preaching and living out of Christ’s gospel and especially his Cross in this essential matter.

    By the way, I might as well bring up what will be an even more explosive ramification of your posting on forgiveness. Nonviolence/pacifisim. Everything you said implies that we cannot deliberately indulge in violence, certainly not lethal violence. The Orthodox may not have any just war theory as such, but they have what is in effect a bad faith teaching that one can go and kill in war and then repent afterwards.

    Paul del Junco, deacon

  56. Lina Avatar

    Paul in Romans 5:8 says

    But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that
    while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

  57. Karen Avatar

    Ann, I must confess I am following Fr. Stephen’s thoughts, but apparently I’m not following yours. Your latest responses to Michael and then to me seem to contradict each other. I apologize for my long-winded comments to you when apparently I’m just not following exactly where your questions actually lie. Undoubtedly some things are getting lost in translation–happens easily when my excessive verbosity overtakes! Forgive me.


  58. Ann Avatar

    Karen, sorry for any confusion I have caused. Since my last post I had occassion to speak with a philosopher and a theologian, both of whom are Roman Catholics.

    I will try to say clearly what the teaching is on forgiveness as I now understand it.

    Christians are obliged to forgive all trespassers in the sense that they may not pursue revenge. To those who ask for forgiveness, we must restore friendship. But we need not seek restoration of frienship with those who do not ask for forgiveness.

    Hope that helps.

    Peace back.

  59. fatherstephen Avatar

    Deacon Paul,
    You seem to have some interesting polemical points – but they do not understand Orthodox practice viz. war, etc. We believe the taking of a human life is a sin. Though circumstances may force themselves on us, the damage done to our souls needs healing (sometimes with a epitimia of 3 years without communion). There is not much of a just war theory in Orthodoxy, and there was never a “Holy War” as was sanctioned by the medieval Papacy. It is probably quite difficult to compare Orthodoxy and Catholicism – they really are apples and oranges,

  60. Micahel Bauman Avatar
    Micahel Bauman

    Ann, I was not ‘making and argument’ I was simply describing the process as I have been taught and experienced it within the Church.

    If I can get to the foot of that Cross, I’ll gladly limp, crawl and drag myself while still requiring His grace.

  61. Aunt Melanie Avatar

    Karen and Ann: Thank you for your conversation on this topic. Much appreciated.

    Fr. Stephen: Thank you for this remark–
    “Christ does not require more – He makes possible what is impossible. But no one should torture themselves in this – we do each day what we can each day, by God’s grace.”

  62. John Avatar

    Would you please comment on Romans 13.4?

  63. Karen Avatar

    Yes, thank you, Ann. I think we (you, me, and your Roman Catholic experts) are on the same page in terms of broad brush principles here.

    It is interesting to me, though, that to boil it down in a nutshell as you did forces you to articulate it in a reductionist or merely behavioral kind of way. Does seeing it put simply in this way help you in the confusion or difficulty you were experiencing with Fr. Stephen’s post? If so, then this exercise has certainly been useful. I think Fr. Stephen’s post means to reflect in an expansive, rather than reductionist, way upon the inner-focused part of this principle–that is, forgiveness in terms of the surrendering of our rights to revenge.

    As a general rule, I have observed that when it seeks to articulate some spiritual truth, Orthodox theology, in contrast with all but the most mystical of western theologians perhaps, tends to be inner focused on the heart as a concrete reality within each of us affecting us and everything around us in profound ways. It is not focused outward on (supposedly) “objective” situations, behaviors, or relationships in the world in the abstract or hypothetical. That is to say, it doesn’t look at any of these externals apart from that inner reality. I think this is a bit confusing to one not trained in the Orthodox mindset, and it takes a while to learn how to make an accurate translation or inference from one theological framework to the other. The more I encounter this, the more I realize there will probably never be an entirely satisfying translation of Orthodoxy into any other theological framework.

  64. Paolo Avatar

    When I read the writings of Father Stephen, to put it as would say C.S.Lewis, I feel as drink a glass of water in the desert, but this is the same Holy Spirit of the Fathers of the Church, The One that inspired saint Silouan of Mt. Athos, or St John Chrysostom, or the Popes, every faithful christian. Thank you very much father Stephen!

  65. Brantley Thomas Avatar
    Brantley Thomas


    I’m really struggling to see how an invocation of Romans 13:4 is germane to the conversation. St. Paul’s admonition to submit to authority is for the salvation of those Christians in Rome…something like a follow-up on his words in Romans 12:20 (to “heap coals” on your enemy’s head). That’s why “the one in authority is God’s servant for YOUR good” (my emphasis). It’s a chance for YOUR salvation. It says nothing about the righteousness of the one in authority.

    Am I missing something?

  66. fatherstephen Avatar

    Since the one in authority in St. Paul’s time, was the Emperor Nero, who had St. Paul beheaded and St. Peter crucified, are we to assume that he was the instrument of God’s wrath? The verse instructs us to be respectful of those who are in civil authority – for it is generally the case that they bear their authority to curb evil (thus they are like a “necessary evil” themselves). Looking at the book of Job, one could even describe the Devil this way. But what God has set in place to preserve us in our fallen state, is not the same thing as pursuing the kingdom of God. Genesis tells us that God allowed us to die to prevent our evil from becoming to great – but we are also told in Scripture (the book of Wisdom) that God is not the author of death.

  67. John Avatar

    “There is not much of a just war theory in Orthodoxy.” That’s what brought it up. Romans 13 is often cited in support of there being such a thing as a just war. In what sense is an evil civil government God’s minister, like Nero and Hitler, for example? Was the war against Hitler a just war? Are the two wars in which the U.S. is currently engaged to be considered just wars simply because the civil government has decreed them? How are we to understand Romans 13 in view of Matthew 5 and Romans 12? What are your thoughts?

  68. Brantley Thomas Avatar
    Brantley Thomas

    Ahh, I see.

    Well, speaking for me personally, I don’t think there is such a thing as a just war. I know that there are Orthodox out there who do, and they can comment on that from their perspective. (There were instances of saints blessing armies to go to war, for example.)

    I honestly can’t see it, but I’m prepared to admit that I’m quite wrong.

    I *don’t* think that Romans 13 should necessarily be used as a defense for such a belief though, because I don’t believe that St. Paul was defending any government in that passage; he was demonstrating how Christians should act in the face of an unjust government.

    St. John Chrysostom’s thoughts:
    “He then who by fear and rewards gives the soul of the majority a preparatory turn towards its becoming more suited for the word of doctrine, is with good reason called ‘the Minister of God.’”

  69. fatherstephen Avatar

    John, there is no “just war.” If a man broke into my house and sought to kill my family, I probably would everything to defend my family up to an including killing the intruder (to be as honest as I can with myself). Under Orthodox canon law, I would then be suspended from my service as a priest (for having taken a human life). It would be a decision of my bishops as to how long I would be suspended, or whether I would ever be permitted to act as a priest (though the longest I could be prevented from the Cup would be 3 years according to Canon Law). The meaning of this, is that “justice” is really not the issue. Murder, even in self defense, has the mark of sin, even when I am not its originator. In Orthodox thought, the participation in the shedding of blood does something to our hearts that is in great need of healing. Those thing imposed on me by the Church would only be things that are imposed for my healing and salvation. Simply saying, “It’s ok. It’s not your fault.” is not enough (at least where the heart is concerned). I have ministered to many soldiers over the past 35 years and I know the deep pain they carry regardless of their country’s “just call.” As I once heard said of a “just” killing, “Then legally you should be able to sleep at night.” But this is simply not the case. A great wound is inflicted in the killing of another human being, no matter how justly or how innocently. God is a good God and does not leave us unhealed when we turn to Him. It’s why all theories of “justice” are just shallow nonsense a legal mumbo jumbo. The problem is existential and requires a true healing (not mere reassurance of our innocence). Just war is ultimately a theory of Christianity meant to justify the evil acts of the state. There is no such nonsense in Christ’s teachings.

  70. easton Avatar

    so father stephen, in that case, shouldn’t orthodox christians refuse to join the military, knowing that war involves the sin of killing?

  71. Ann Avatar


    I apologize for any confusion I have added to the conversation.

    I think this thread, with all due respect to the truth in the Greek Orthodox faith, is made more confusing by those speaking from that tradition and mixing with the Roman tradition.

    That thought is substantiated by the last posts on killing in self defense

    Father Stephen says that killing in the defense of his family is still wrong in some way.

    I believe in the Roman tradition that one has a duty to kill an aggressor who threatens ones family for whom one has responsibility.

    Although physical evil, the death of a human, is committed, there is no moral evil committed. In fact, there would be both physical and moral evil IF one neglected that duty.

    The Greek tradition has no Magisterium or infallible Pope.

    We in the Roman tradition do and where disagreement reigns on faith and morals, we have a certain authority.

    We never go wrong when we listen to that authority, although sometimes it is not easy to find it.


  72. fatherstephen Avatar

    There is not a tradition of pacificism in Orthodoxy (as I noted, I would defend my family, as a man would defend his country). But it does indeed run the risk of serious sin. Orthodoxy refuses to establish a system in which we can “legally” get through life without sin. What we need is genuine repentance. When I send a young man off to war (which I have several times in the last number of years) one of my most sincere prayers is that he not have to kill. One young man went to Afganistan as a Green Beret officer, and wanted to go to seminary afterwards. I prayed very hard for him. He returned without having taken a life, went to seminary, and is now an army chaplain who indeed returned to Afganistan as a non-combatant. I think he’s one of the bravest men I know.

  73. fatherstephen Avatar

    The position I have stated viz. killing, even in defense, is the position of the ancient canons of the Church. Rome revises canons – generally not an Orthodox practice. What I have offered is the ancient view of the Church. It would be easier to trust the “certainty” of Roman authority had it changed so many times in history (and continues to change). It may be correct as it has done so (I offer no condemnation) but neither would I be naive enough to think that Roman authority is anything other than an arbitrary acceptance of an authority. The Orthodox hesitancy in such matters is well grounded – and well known within the dialog between our churches. It is a very respectful dialog, which grants a validity to the differences with which we wrestle. May God help us.

  74. Karen Avatar

    Ann, thanks. No need to apologize. This is an important central teaching of our Christian faith. It’s always good to think such things through more thoroughly. I’ve appreciated the opportunity your comments and questions have afforded me to do that.

    Father, did you mean to say in your comment to Ann, ” . . . Roman authority had it [not] changed so many times in history . . . “?

  75. fatherstephen Avatar

    Karen, yes. The Roman position has shifted on a number of important positions (not that they wouldn’t say the same to us) – but it is not something to be cited as an immovable rock.

  76. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    One of the difficuties of facing the question of war is our natural and righteous abhorrance with the taking of a human life. It is why we tend to separate into two camps: pacifism or some sort of legalistic justification for war including ‘necessary evil. IMO, both are wrong and become an ideology that prevents us from seeing the fundamental ontological reality of our own sin whether we go to war or we do not.

    I firmly believe there is a righteous way for a Christian to participate in war as Fr. Stephen’s parishoner demonstrates. Those who do are not only offering up their lives for others, but even the possiblity of the loss of their souls. Both pacifism and just war denigrate such an incredible gift and make it too easy to condemn others to salve our own conscience. Too easy to not hold our governments accountable for their actions or inactions.

    Fr. Stehpen faces the horrible paradox involved in a faithful Christian going to war, as does the Orthodox Church (even if it is often ignored and forgotten).

    BTW, I have experienced priests celebrating the Divine Liturgy who (simply for their own conscience) omit the full blessing for soldiers in the Great Litany, refusing to pray for “…victory over all enemies.” The worst enemy one faces on the battlefield is often found in one’s own heart and on one’s own side (friendly fire and unrighteous commanders), and the attack of the demons so prevalent in such places. As Fr. Stephen points out, that should be our heartfelt prayer, but victory without having to kill.

    There are extant Byzantine stragegy books that include doing as much as possible to preserve the lives of the enemy as well as one’s own troops.

    Satan uses physical means to get at us. Sometimes we must counter with physical means. In such cases, it is not evil except to the extent that we live in evil continously and will until our Lord comes again.

    All of this I have learned from my son who studied the matter deeply and prayerfully in his own decision to enter the military after the 9/11 attacks (ultimately unsuccessful because of push-ups he could not do and by the Grace of God). Still he refused to take the easy way out.

    Read it here: While not complete or particularly polished, it challenges either easy way out. He has defended his thesis successfully with several priests one fellow parishoner who knew first hand the evils of war and had been deeply damaged by it and me.

    My son completed his essay seven years ago, yet we still have spirited discussions on the ramifications and necessary requirements to be a Chrisitan Warrior in the physical sense. His thesis still makes me uncomfortable, but that is not a bad thing. We should be uncomfortable.

  77. Ann Avatar

    Father Stephen,

    I do believe there are many misunderstandings between the various faiths.

    I think that your statement about the Roman position shifting is based on a misunderstanding of the infallibility of the Pope and the teaching Magisterium.

    I will not explain all the nuances of that here, but suffice it to say that the Church never changes it’s teachings on faith and morals. It DEVELOPS it, but it never contradicts itself.

    Theologians change. Even Saints change their opinion. Even Pope’s can change their private opinions.

    But again, the Magesterium and the Pope never change.They only develop the consistent teachings from Christ. “Upon this Rock…”

    That agrument was made, as many know, in the Anglican Communion and Cardinal Newman answered it beautifully.
    His studies on the matter led him out of the Anglican into the Catholic Church.

  78. Karen Avatar

    Michael, I like the version of the prayer for soldiers that asks that they may experience “victory over evil in all places.”

  79. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Karen, the version you site would seem to make the intent more clear, however, to me, it is alreayd quite clear unless one is prejudiced against participating in the military in the first place and takes a truncated meaning of the words. What really gets me though is a priest putting his own essentially political preference over the prayers of the liturgy. I find that distressing.

  80. fatherstephen Avatar

    The prayer you refer to in the Great Litany is in parenthesis or italics in all editions that I know. It is a petition to be added in time of war. I’ve never seen it used on a normative basis by priests, regardless of their politics. I would use it when circumstances seemed appropriate, or when the Bishops (who do this sort of thing fairly often) send a directive that it is to be used for such and such a period of time.

    It would also be interesting to see whether the petition is original with Chrysostom or a later addition (I have no idea).

  81. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Thank you Father, the limited number of editions that I have seen did not have it in parenthesis. It was a little confusing when the Dean of the Cathedral parish which I attend uses it and the associate pastor did not. This at a time when members of the parish being shot at on the battlefield.

    Strange that I did not get the explanation you just gave when I asked about it put, more or less, the conscience answer.

  82. fatherstephen Avatar

    If by Great Litany (the Litany at the beginning of the service), I have 2 slavonic sluzhebnik’s (service books). Neither have this petition in them. I’ll dig deeper.

  83. […] on 9/11″ Rev. Elias D. Mallon, S.A. Love is more powerful than hate Learning to Pray: Forgive everyone, everything Michael Gerson: The Ugly Gash of 9/11 Peggy Noonan: We’ll never get over it, nor should we […]

  84. […] Borrowing the title and contents of this post from Father Stephen’s blog: […]

  85. pauldeljunco Avatar

    fatherstephen Says:
    September 9, 2011 at 5:05 pm
    There is not a tradition of pacificism in Orthodoxy (as I noted, I would defend my family, as a man would defend his country). But it does indeed run the risk of serious sin. Orthodoxy refuses to establish a system in which we can “legally” get through life without sin. What we need is genuine repentance. When I send a young man off to war (which I have several times in the last number of years) one of my most sincere prayers is that he not have to kill. One young man went to Afganistan as a Green Beret officer, and wanted to go to seminary afterwards. I prayed very hard for him. He returned without having taken a life, went to seminary, and is now an army chaplain who indeed returned to Afganistan as a non-combatant. I think he’s one of the bravest men I know.

    Father Stephen and Michael,

    I disagree that there is no tradition of pacifism in Orthodoxy, or Catholicism for that matter. The first three centuries of the undivided Church from the time of Christ until the time of Constantine were almost entirely pacifist and there was a profound witness of many saints to pacifism both in their writings and in their lives, to the point of giving their lives rather than taking a life. (There is no question of “ideology” here, unless trying to follow the teachings, life and death of Jesus Christ is an ideology. You might as well say, then, that being against abortion is an ideology as well.)

    One small example from an early saint:

    “If a loud trumpet summons soldiers to war, shall not Christ with a strain of peace issued to the ends of the earth gather up his soldiers of peace? By his own blood and by his word he has assembled an army which sheds no blood in order to give them the Kingdom of Heaven. The trumpet of Christ is his Gospel. He has sounded it and we have heard it. Let us then put on the armour of peace.”

    – Clement of Alexandria, Protrepticus XI, 116 (Thanks to Orthodox Peace Fellowship website for this and many other quotes on peacemaking from the saints.)

    As Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker noted, the acts of war are totally contrary to the acts of mercy. I would add that the mind of Christ is totally contrary to the mind that makes war. The state and its military arm when it makes war is simply incompatible with the mind of Christ. It’s interests are in no way those of Christ’s. It seeks to overcome its enemy with violence. It believes it can defeat the evil of its enemy’s violence with the very same evil. Christ overcame evil with good. He submitted to the evil done to him, he was vulnerable to it to the point of total dereliction and a “Godless” death. “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” And it was this, and only this, that was the path to his resurrection. The resurrection was and is the fruit of Christ’s act of extreme love for us on the cross.

    I just don’t see how one moment we can talk about forgiving everyone for everything and foregoing revenge, and the next moment talk about joining the military where we will be trained to hate our enemies and kill them on command (cf basic training) and take revenge (cf the debacle with Osama Bin Laden). It is disingenuous for a faithful follower of Christ to join the army hoping that he (or she!) never has to kill anyone when the problem is much more fundamental: his whole training and nurturing in the military is simply 100% opposed to the mind and spirit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

    To me the truth is so simple as to be mind boggling. The reason we don’t want to accept it or simply feel it’s impossible (myself included) is because it’s hard, very hard. We simply don’t want to bear this aspect of the Cross of Christ because in fact it takes more courage, not less courage, to be vulnerable to evil in the manner Jesus was. It in fact takes a vulnerability which we can’t bear. We would rather be “practical” and tough. And that means accommodating ourselves and our churches to the mind of the state, the mind of this world. This to me is the great tragedy of all the major churches for the last 17 hundred years, the great seduction of Constantine. A Christian state or nation is an illusion, in fact an oxymoron.

    And we all know, or should know, that the kingdom of this world is not compatible with the Kingdom of God.

    Christ have mercy on us and on our churches.


    P.S. I’ve said my peace and will drop out of the discussion. I just don’t have the time! If you want to reach me personally: email hidden; JavaScript is required

  86. Andrew Avatar

    Father, I know it’s somewhat of a different topic…but what would you say about forgiving ourselves? Especially for serious things in one’s past? It’s something I struggle with a lot. I know we go to confession and we’re supposed to leave it there, but that’s much easier said than done. Do you have any guidance on how to do that?


  87. fatherstephen Avatar

    I well understand your positions with regard to the state and the military. On the whole, “State-Churches have not worked well for us,” to quote the late Archbishop Dmitri of Dallas (which he said with a smile). Tradition is a word to be used carefully in Orthodoxy. I would certainly agree that pure pacificism is indeed the highest obedience to the teachings and commandments of Christ. I’ve also noted (carefully) in my writings and comments, that to take a human life (however so innocently) involves us in sin (to varying degrees – but always not without sin). I’ve also noted that killing involves varying levels of penance in the Church – including that done during war or at other times.

    Having said that, it is also true that the Church has recognized armies, etc., as part of the state, and offers prayers for them in every service (as we do for the Executive in any state). Such prayer may involve a variety of nuances.
    The Church’s position with regard to the military changes somewhat after Constantine – but Constantine’s army, like all of the armies of Rome at the time, included a growing number of Christians who were not excommunicate from the Church. It is incorrect historically to point to Constantine as the great watershed of history. Julian the Apostate was a quick reminder to the Church, if any doubted, that the state can go “both ways.”
    Nonetheless, it is obvious that the Church, in her canons, does not offer an outright condemnation of military service. Orthodoxy is not an ideology, but a hospital for sinners. It frequently presents us with the paradox of the Kingdom of God and the Kingdoms of the World. As a priest of the Church, that paradox seems obvious to me as well. And yet, the paradox remains. The last 500 years have been accompanied with Protestant (and Anabaptist) ideologies, all seeking to correct “the tragedy of the last 1700 years,” only to have brought us confusion and tragedies that far eclipse what they seek to fix. In Orthodoxy, we properly are plunged into the paradox of human sin and its cure, and respond, “Lord, have mercy.” Beware of every utopian imagination. Paradise is indeed wonderful – and awaits us at every moment – forgive everyone for everything. But the search for paradise begins in the heart, not in history, nor in ideology. It is found in Christ, and even in Him, we encounter a paradox that would take us beyond where we understand and into what cannot be understood. God forgive me for the confusion I create in my writings, the efforts of sinner.

  88. markbasil Avatar

    Dear to God Paul, Christ is in our midst!

    I am an Orthodox Christian who was catechized by my priest that nonviolent love of enemies is entirely Orthodox. I then visited the local Monastery (nearby Vancouver), and met three brothers who live like angels– they affirmed to me in no uncertain terms that nonviolence absolutely is the Orthodox Way.
    However, our Prince of Peace, our Military General, our conqueror of Death Christ Jesus, is profoundly merciful and patient, seeking to nurture pure faith in the hearts of all. You know as well as I that Christ encountered soldiers and did not find it pertinent to rebuke them for their vocation. Christ saw the heart and knew that love will flow naturally from any pure spring.
    I believe this is because Christ’s Way is that articulated by Fr Stephen’s most recent response to you– THe Lord, and the Church, look to include everyone in the Holy Mystery of salvation and nurture all along the path.

    Where you and I would agree, along with my catechizing priest, and the holy monks I spoke of, is that the Church in many national contexts (including America and to some extent Canada), is not speaking clearly about this fine nuance. Neither are enough bishops and priests courageous enough to say anything against warfare or military participation. I strongly agree with your point that, frankly, to join the military means joining a ‘formative path’, so it is not so simple as just trying hard not to kill people.
    As my spiritual father has said, just retain the truth Christ has revealed in your heart and seek to live into that truth through greater repentance and humility. That’s the Orthodox ‘way’ to be a pacifist.
    I have written a fair bit about this on my weblog if you care to have a look.

    Love in Christ;
    -Mark Basil

  89. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, I want to thank you for not taking the simplistic way out in the discussion of warfare. It is difficult not to allow ourselves the comfort of some ideology or other in addressing the topic, it so quickly exposes our own brokenness, unforgiveness and desire for revenge.

    For those who seek to articulate the highest road of non-violent peacemaking and martyrdom, you are right to do so as long as you do not sit in judgment on those who choose to pick up the sword to defend their friends, neighbors and loved ones. Too often I have seen folks violently fight for non-violence. One too must remember that Constantine was conquered his political enemies under the sign of Christ, unless you doubt the veracity of Constantine’s testimony. One must also know that modern-day pacificism is highly colored by a strain of Protestant theology which tends to reject the idea that men act in concert with God, in synergy, but are wholly subject to the Will of God, therefore our failure to act really has no longer term consequences, while our use of violence defiles us but does no ultimate good.

    The three great political ideologies of our lifetime (communism, jihadist Islam, and secular democracy) all seek to turn men away from God and destroy our souls so we must not make our decisions based on politics at all or because we oppose certain politics (far more difficult than it may appear). Nevertheless, if we reject the ideological/political rational for war, it may still be possible to pick up the sword to protect and defend. It is not just the angels in heaven who battle against the demons and it is not just with ‘spiritual’ weapons that we battle.

  90. Mark Avatar

    Dear Michael, we have disagreed on the question of violence before and I always appreciate your irenic and thoughtful voice. I was grateful to find myself in agreement with your most recent words, walking step by step with you in agreement until your very final sentence.
    As Christians, it is only with spiritual weapons that we fight the good fight:

    “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.”
    –Jn 18:36

    Put on the full armor of God… [O]ur struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God…
    –Eph 6:11-13

    This is a hard word but it is the gospel. When we kill for even the noblest of reasons we still fall short of the full stature of this teaching, yet the Lord remains faithful and redeems what can be redeemed.
    -Mark Basil

  91. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Mark: “As Christians, it is only with spiritual weapons that we fight the good fight:”

    …and that is the crux of disagreement isn’t it. While I certainly do not endorse a reliance on physical arms as primary weapons and realize that if they are to be used, they must be used in concert with a spiritual struggle, there is simply too much evidence within the experience of the Church to rule out entirely the righteous use of physical means to stop evil. To me it is a corollary of the Incarnation. Not saying you do this, but I’ve seen and heard way too much Christian peacemaking that is gnostic in quality and that partakes of an ethos that denies human free will… not to mention the judgements brought down on the heads of those who choose to serve in the military as not really being Christian.

    While the ultimate most throughly Christian response to Alluh Akabar–boom! is Christ is Risen!, there are times when the only way to stop the boom is to kill other human beings before they press the button–then go pray for their souls and our own.

    Whether we act with arms or not, other people will come to harm and our actions/inaction is never as pure as we would like to hope.

    Then there is the belief my son has come to…if we Christians are not involved, warfare becomes far worse than it would be otherwise. Our engagement with the world is a requirement that Jesus gives us, we must “be in the world, not of it”.

    Our greatest weapon is always repentance/forgiveness. The secret behind “forgive everybody everything” is that in order to do it, we must repent always of everything.

  92. markbasil Avatar

    Hello Michael;
    I’ve been thinking lots about your response. Would you mind if I posted your comment on my blog, and wrote a somewhat lengthy response there? I dont want to clutter up Fr Stephen’s blog any further. 🙂


  93. fatherstephen Avatar

    Forgive me for being so slow in our conversation. I’m working through a lot of stuff (most grieving the death of friend and family right now) and not working very fast.

    I don’t think that I myself believe in any kind of “just war.” It’s sort of a later invention. War may feel necessary some times (as when your homeland, etc., is attacked), but killing is wrong even when done for a “good reason.” This paradox is treated as a paradox in Orthodoxy. Killing is wrong – and maybe almost unavoidable – but remains a sin for which Christ died – and should be confessed, perhaps including penance (for the healing of the soul) and forgiven. But never simply set aside as “well it was killing in a justified situation” therefore don’t worry about it.

    Such reasoning is abstract (and far removed from real war). I’ve known many soldiers over the years, read many war memoirs. Those who kill without much of a conscience are often seen by their own fellow soldiers as somehow deranged, lacking something. The slow work of healing a soul is the greatest pastoral work anyone every undertakes. But we have to know a disease when we see one. Killing is a disease, regardless of the vectors by which it comes.

    Maybe the question should also be, “Is the State just,” or is it “just the state”?

  94. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Mark, you may post my comment on your blog. Just to avoid confusion, it is helpful to let people know that I am not the Dr. Michael Bauman of Hillsdale.

  95. alixladygimp Avatar

    Forgiveness is powerful–for everyone concerned. Many years ago, my husband and father of my two young daughters was arrested and convicted of the acts of exposing himself to children in our nieghborhood and showing them explicit pornography. Though he was no longer in the home, my children and I were asked to leave our residence. Social services had to interview and examine my children to see if they had been harmed (they hadn’t). Many many more consequences social, financial etc followed. My husband was unrepentent, stalked me and the children including taking them unlawfully from a babysitter’s care. To protect the children and myself, I moved closer to my parents. He followed and other stalking followed despite restraining orders etc. I was angry, bitter–name the negitive feelings.

    One wise and loving spiritual counselor told me that for the sake of my own soul, the sake of my children and their father, I had to forgive him. I responded that I did not know how. I was told that I should pray for him every day as an act of will. I did. My beginning prayers were of the variety of “Lord, you will have to forgive the **** because I cannot.” Over days, weeks, and months, I prayed and the nature of my prayers changed. Finally, I was able to ask for healing for myself, the children and for him and give him my true forgiveness and ask mercy for all of us from a loving and merciful God.

    The children’s father in the meantime had offended again and was sent to prison. Several years passed and I was told he was being released from prison with terminal cancer. He sent word that he would like to see the children. Because of the results of my months and years of prayers and the way God had changed my heart, I was able to visit and allow the children to visit him. When we arrived, he told me that he had had a spiritual experience that had worked miracles in his heart and he asked for my forgiveness and the children’s.

    Over the few months he lived, the children and I were able to visit and the children were able to renew a relationship with their father. His favorite song was “Amazing Grace.” The day he died, he was in a coma and we visited. The girls sang Amazing Grace for him and he roused from his comatose state, told them he loved them,. He died a few minutes after that.

    Forgiveness is powerful.

  96. dan wachsmuth Avatar
    dan wachsmuth

    Dostoyevsky goes to the core of Jesus’ teaching in the beattitudes: blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. When we are dishonored, we are angry and malcontent instead of forgiving. Jesus said to Judas, friend, why have you come.

  97. Paul del Junco Avatar

    alixladygimp Says:
    September 17, 2011 at 2:20 pm
    …Over the few months he lived, the children and I were able to visit and the children were able to renew a relationship with their father. His favorite song was “Amazing Grace.” The day he died, he was in a coma and we visited. The girls sang Amazing Grace for him and he roused from his comatose state, told them he loved them,. He died a few minutes after that.

    Forgiveness is powerful.

    Thank you for that witness.


  98. seo Avatar

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