Can You Forgive Someone Else’s Enemies?

My thoughts have been drawn to this topic any number of times in the past few days. As we near the anniversary of the tragic events of 911, I see plaintive postings of that day saying, “Never forget” (or words to that effect). The Orthodox faith teaches us that the remembrance of the departed should be eternal (“Memory Eternal,” is our prayer). I suspect that what is being urged, however, is not the remembrance of those who have died, but remembrance of the great evil that was done. There have been over 250,000 civilian deaths in America’s military actions since that day, deaths for which no memory is suggested, and for some, not yet enough. There have been very few rules governing modern warfare other than the “optics” of any given response. There can be a darkness in the remembrance of past wrongs. In many corners of the world, the wrongs that seem fresh occurred in long-passed centuries. The cycle of violence becomes unending, and is born anew within the heart of every generation. These are among the most intractable problems within the modern world. Christ came into a generation that had known many centuries of wrongs and a present-tense suffering of military and political occupation. It is in that precise context that He speaks regarding enemies. Those words were, no doubt, hard. They remain difficult for us. I reprint this article as we all wrestle with the injuries done to us and to those we love. May God give us grace!

I have written from time to time about the concept expressed in Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov, “Forgive everyone for everything.” It is a quote taken from the fictional Elder Zosima, but it is certainly a sentiment well within the bounds of Orthodox thought. I have recently been challenged in several places by people arguing that we cannot forgive those who have not sinned against us – that this right belongs only to the victims involved. I believe this is profoundly untrue. But to understand why, it is necessary to look deeply into the meaning and function of forgiveness.

What happens when we forgive? A very important example is found in St. Mark’s gospel:

Then they came to Him, bringing a paralytic who was carried by four men. And when they could not come near Him because of the crowd, they uncovered the roof where He was. So when they had broken through, they let down the bed on which the paralytic was lying. When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven you.” And some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, “Why does this Man speak blasphemies like this? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” But immediately, when Jesus perceived in His spirit that they reasoned thus within themselves, He said to them, “Why do you reason about these things in your hearts? “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic,’Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say,’Arise, take up your bed and walk’? “But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins”– He said to the paralytic, “I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.”  (Mar 2:3-11)

What sin did Jesus have in mind when he forgave the paralytic? Had the man done something wrong to bring a punishment of paralysis upon himself? There is no such indication. Indeed when Christ healed the man born blind He was asked who had sinned, the man or his parents such that he was born that way. Christ says, “Neither.” But it would seem clear from the greater context of the gospels that Christ could have said to the man, “Your sins are forgiven,” and he would have received his sight. There is a simple conclusion to be drawn from this: forgiveness is not, strictly speaking, the remission of a legal debt or wrong that has been done. It is far greater.

There are parallel passages in the gospels regarding the forgiveness of sins:

If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained. (Joh 20:23 NKJ)


Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. (Mat 16:19 NKJ)

Forgiving is “loosing.” Refusing to forgive is “binding.” The imagery of loosing and binding helps move the imagination away from a legal construction. When we sin, or even when we are involved in sin, we become bound. There is a binding that occurs because we ourselves were the cause of the sin. There is a binding that occurs because we ourselves were the victim of a sin. There is a binding that occurs because we simply witness the sin. There is even a form of binding that occurs to the whole of humanity because of the diminishment of even one of its members. If everyone were somehow only responsible for their own actions the world would be quite different. As it is, the action of one involves the binding of all. Adam’s sin has left us bound ever since. We are not being held legally responsible for Adam’s action. We are existentially and ontologically bound by Adam’s sin. Through his sin, death enters the world, and all men die (Ro. 5:12).

And just as there is a binding that occurs in each of these things, so there is a loosing that is appropriate to each. Obviously, the injury that a victim suffers binds them far tighter to their enemy than someone who is at a remove. And such a loosing is greater and represents a greater spiritual effort. But that effort is itself impeded by the refusal of all around to share in the loosing. And just as the refusal of all around impedes the loosing, so the participation of others makes the loosing easier.

These things are difficult to understand if we insist that all of reality is, at best, psychological or legal. But the death of Adam is not shared in a merely psychological or legal manner: we all die. And the resurrection of the Second Adam is shared in a manner that encompasses the whole of creation. The Paschal Canon contains the verse: “Let us call brothers even those that hate us, and forgive all by the resurrection.” It is a perfectly strange thing to sing unless we understand the true nature of forgiveness – and how it is that the Resurrection of Christ makes it possible for us to forgive everyone for everything.

Of course it jars us to hear that someone dares to forgive the killer of a child. “Only the child could offer such forgiveness!” These words were spoken by Ivan Karamazov as he professed his refusal of God’s mercy. He demanded justice for an injured child. Forgiveness that works by justice is no forgiveness at all. Forgiveness is not the child saying, “What you did to me is ok.” It is loosing the bonds that are forged in sin.

We often think that not forgiving someone is only destructive for them. But the lack of forgiveness is often equally devastating for their victim as well. I had opportunity some years ago to be involved with a Victim-Offenders Reconciliation Program. In it, mediators helped work to bring restitution and reconciliation for various crimes. I eventually became involved with efforts of ministry with families that had suffered a murder (as had my family). The darkness of the crime extends mercilessly beyond the victim alone. Forgiveness is the only way forward.

It is striking how utterly central forgiveness was to the ministry of Christ. It dominates almost everything He did. Many observe that He kept company with “sinners.” But He first and foremost forgave them. Their loyalty and devotion to Him flowed from the spiritual loosing that they found in Him. A woman “who was a sinner,” bathes Christ’s feet with her tears and anoints them with fragrant spices. Those around Him are offended. But He says:

Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little. (Luk 7:47 NKJ)

I cannot make your enemy be reconciled to you, nor can I do for you what you alone must do. Your enemy is yours to forgive. But he is mine as well, and the bond of unforgiven sin that links my life to his is still mine to loose. It is for this reason that we are bidden in the wisdom of the Fathers to forgive everyone for everything. Anything less is a bondage of destruction. Forgive all by the resurrection.

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.



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133 responses to “Can You Forgive Someone Else’s Enemies?”

  1. Martial Thomas Avatar
    Martial Thomas

    How do you detach forgiveness from crippling naivete?

    That is, if you as a man, are charged with the protection and provision of your family, as a means of exemplary headship – how do you engage people who’s decisions to forgive affect the safety of your family? I suppose I’m considering this in a manner of living in a state who’s prime response to barbarism is appeasement rather than impartial justice.


  2. Randy Evans Avatar

    Forgiveness is, as you eloquently state, at the heart of everything. AA echoes this in teaching one how to stay sober: “Holding on to resentments is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” Another thought; what if someone in Jesus’ time, a believer, had witnessed his best friend’s family devastated by the burglary – perhaps even combined with sexual or physical abuse – committed by the “thief on the cross.” And who carries deep anger and resentment toward that man, not actually hearing his confession and destiny given as Paradise in his last breath. And upon this man’s death, he happens to “run into” that thief . . . the poison of unforgiveness rushes to his heart and mouth . . . not a situation any of us would want to be found with. Lord, continue to soften our hard hearts. But it’s doubtful he would “run into” that thief because poison has no place in Paradise.

  3. Deborah Hansen Avatar
    Deborah Hansen

    Thank you. As a spiritual director, I listen to many who struggle with forgiveness. Binding and loosening gives me very helpful language to share with them.

  4. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    First, as a Christian, we are charged with the love of God and keeping Christ’s commandments, both of which can get you killed and cost the lives of those around you. It will be impossible to follow Christ if we do not acknowledge this as a primary reality. Of course, it rarely comes to that.

    But, if our primary concern is safety and such – then we’d be foolish to forgive our enemies or to do anything less than kill them all. The state of Israel, I gather, has this policy in mind as it retaliates with consistently strong(er) responses in the face of every transgression against its safety. That’s certainly one approach – it’s also not in accordance with the teachings of Christ.

    Most Christians live with a divided mind. We think of practicing Christ’s commandments on a personal, private level, but do not want the State to do so. There are any number of folks who argue that this is how it should be. When that choice is made, I suspect that our hearts will differ little from that of any other citizen. Modernity strongly suggests that we keep our religion to ourself and let the State obey some other plan of action.

    If we want safety – I do not see a clear path.

  5. Christopher Avatar

    Father & Martial,

    I would like to take this dilemma, this existential need to be loosed from sin on the one hand and to exist in a “space” of justice and virtue on the other (for how else can you live – the consequences of sin would overcome seeming *instantly*), and applying it closer to home, how do we forgive family, friends, and immediate communities such as those who harm us at work, church, school, etc.?

    For example Father, you have stated very clearly that there are “toxic” situations that do not require the victim to constantly expose themselves to harm even if they are to forgive – such as when a spouse is physically abusing another. Putting aside the question whether modern secular-pluralistic nation states are “nations” in the classical biblical sense, it would be inconsistent if we are to say that the individual has some recourse to justice and “safety” but not a nation – even a modern one which may be about as anti-Christian as it can get. Does not a person, or a family, or a community, or a nation have to first “be” (live in time) before it can be bound and/or loosed?

    So what is the acceptable “minimal standards” as it were? Where do we stand and live such that we make our can then make our sacrifice? God told Abraham to bind his son, but in the end He told him “the ram!” If a deranged child of God comes into my home (or boards my airplane, or walks into the Walmart I am consuming at – this literally happened to one of our parishioners in El Paso recently, please pray for Irena as she grapples with a bit of PTSD from the event), what is the sacrifice of binding and loosening I am to make?

    Is Christ commandment on the level of sacrifice everything (including yourself, your children, your community and nation) for your enemy, anytime, anyplace, for any reason without any distinction whatsoever? Such that the ram has been deemed to be something of the old Law and now only Isaac will do…

    This is where I think we too easily put aside (for all the reasons we know – the history of Christianity as we have received it from Calvin and the rest and how that has affected each of us) the ‘forensic’ typology that is everywhere in our Scripture and Tradition. The truth in the Sacrifice of *God’s* son (and not ours) for our sins (and our enemy’s) is that we don’t have to do what only God can do. I mean this as a friend in Christ Father, but I sense a kind of necessity (the ironic non-escaping of a legalism) in what is in effect a kind of radical pacifism that the unavoidable result of binding and loosening as you have it here. The legalism is the result of a kind of necessity of the good in the here and now – we live in Time and while the end may be the space where all is forgiven, loosed, and no hell or evil is present – but we are not there yet. It’s almost as if you are suggesting a species of “immatization of the Eschaton”, though a certain kind of Eschaton.

    It is as you say, the path is not clear. If Time is mere creature that “contains” sin, binding, and hell and all these are merely negated in the Eschaton – the restoration of all things – then what was the point of it all again? Do we not remember sin, binding, and hell in the Kingdom? If we do, is not Justice equally present with forgiveness and an integral aspect of said Kingdom? What sort of place would be a Kingdom be without Justice?

  6. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    The question is similar to that of “Just War Theory,” something that I believe to be the wrong question. Sure, we might very well kill someone who tries to take the life of our family (or nation, etc.). But we do not walk away from that feeling or being “justified.” It is the disease of sin that reaches into our lives. The Church’s approach includes calling things by their right names – killing is killing, not “justified killing.” And we do repentance and ask for healing – not because we would never do it again – but because we want to be healed from the effects of having done it once and to pray that it never happens again.

    I think we can “live” through these things – in our life in Christ. What we really cannot do is so structure things that the paradox of sin and necessity are removed. Instead, as we live it, we do not separate ourselves from our enemies, but place ourselves with them in the Hades of sin and necessity where only the Crucified Christ can come and set us free. From there, we cry out for ourselves and for them, “O God, save us!”

    And, finally, we quit trying to manage the world. These questions, it seems to me, are the questions of “managers” and a managerial view of our place in creation. That, I think, is modernity at its most insidious.

    Also, you’re darned right I’m talking about an “immanentization of the Eschaton.” I think it is called the coming of the Kingdom of God. If it ain’t immanent then it’s just 2-storey nonsense. Anybody can talk about it at a distance. All of the commandments of Christ clearly presume its immanence. The Kingdom of God is among you.

  7. Christopher Avatar

    Oops, my mind is faster than my fingers – sorry for all the typos in my last post…

  8. Christopher Avatar

    I think we are on the same page Father. I really like how you put it:

    “we do not separate ourselves from our enemies, but place ourselves with them in the Hades of sin and necessity where only the Crucified Christ can come and set us free. From there, we cry out for ourselves and for them, “O God, save us!”

    That said (and you may disagree with me here), one aspect of this paradox of life in Christ is the sense that the “management” still applies. I have to live, and I have to virtuously live. I have to gather substance, love my family and brother, even my enemies. God has ordered things in just such a way that I will sweat (for my and my childrens daily bread) – monks still have to plant the garden and weave baskets. This means that there is a “structure” to my relationships and the world of these relationships – I have to make prudential decisions and actions all the time.

    If we are not “justified” in these things, then it is a nihilism right? If it is a nihilism then what exactly is the connection (of meaning) between my life (in its sin *and* in is righteousness – if it has any) and my life in the Kingdom? It’s almost as if you are saying there is a kind of total depravity of Time and our place in it. Why would not God just skip to the end and “plop” us directly in the Kingdom/end/eschaton?

    I think, and I mean this as a friend and in conversation, to *agree* with Ivan that Time and our paradoxical (i.e. it has both sin and rightousness, good and evil, life and death) life in it is not justified and not somehow part of the Justice of God.

  9. Christopher Avatar

    Trying to do too many things at once here:

    the last sentence should read:

    I think, and I mean this as a friend and in conversation, {it is wrong} to *agree* with Ivan that Time and our paradoxical (i.e. it has both sin and righteousness, good and evil, life and death) life in it is not justified and not somehow part of the Justice of God….

  10. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    What is not justified is the doing of evil. Planting a garden, raising children are not evil. Not sure how you made that leap.

  11. Dino Avatar

    Thinking on your comment from a slightly different angle…
    Without ever doing away with discernment – there’s a time, a place, a way and a reason for all sorts of things that are ‘exceptional actions”, often utterly wrong out of such discerning a context – I think we do have ample examples of saints who fearlessly embraced utter sacrifice of self and others. The Kingdom was so immediate for them that it coloured their reasoning – regarding sacrifice- most radically. St Perpetua, (the martyr who had given birth in jail and had her father pleading against her sacrificing ‘everything’ for a martyrdom that could be so easily avoided) comes to mind.

  12. Christopher Avatar

    What about the weeds, is killing them evil? What about the rabbit – if I fence him out (and he starves) or kill him directly is this evil? What about my deranged or godless neighbor who would take my garden from me, possibly killing me and/or my children to get what he wants – what is the sacrificial course of action here? I am not going to say that “nobody” plants a garden in isolation, but I do believe it is rare. I certainly live in a garden of good *and* evil with my children.

    This is where I think – could be wrong – that yes the language and typology of sacrifice (and the distinction between what and who God sacrifices and the what of our sacrifice) helps us escape the “doing of evil” kind of trap, and an almost weaponization of forgiveness – which as Martial senses is really a sentimization of it.

  13. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I believe that Christ lived as one of us, yet without sin. That is to say, I believe that it is possible to live in this world without sin – not because we are good or that we would ever be so good in this life – but that to say Christ became one of us yet without sin says something about the paradox and conflicts of life in this world. We are not Manicheans. There is nothing inherently sinful about human existence in this world. We are not required to do evil in order to merely existence, or exist rightly. It is true, however, that the world might well kill us, or those whom we love. We are promised as much. But, “I have overcome the world,” Christ tells us and says that we should, “Be of good cheer.”

    I cannot parse out every single imaginable instance of what it is to live. But, I would suggest that Christ lived 33 years as a human being, doing what human beings do, and did not sin. If sin were a necessity for us – what would that be saying about the world – and God?

    If I suggested that we can practice radical forgiveness without it costing us our lives – that would be sentimentalization (was that the word you meant?). I do not suggest such a thing. I’m clear that it will cost us everything.

  14. Mihai Avatar


    One comment: you are taking a simplistic approach on the level of relationship of individual vs state.
    The truth is (and this is a point on which many Christians think very simplistically) that until we die (on a personal level) and until this world ends (on a universal level) there will always be some remnant of the old Adam, of the garments of skin that must be dealt with. Only the greatest saints and ascetics have reduced this to a minimum (even in their case they have not reached complete fulfillment before their death, that is before they are completely freed from the garments of skin, which represent our fallen existence). On a collective level, this is absolutely impossible to achieve this at such a great level.

    In other words, the state, the police, the legislation etc all these relate to the garments of skin and the old law which has the sole function – on the social level, at least- to keep society from completely degenerating to a state of complete chaos. The only way one can do away with them is, quite literally, that everyone should become a saint or at least strive towards this end. Otherwise, it would be completely impossible to even have this conversation without these.

    The very fact the we have century-old monasteries and monastic traditions extending uninterrupted throughout the centuries is also, partly, due to the fact that we had states with Christianity as their official religion and had armies to protect these from getting burned down every 5-10 years and their inhabitants butchered. Sounds cynical? It’s the very reality of this world which we inhabit….

    If we look at our personal lives, we always see contradictions between the new and the old self and, at a certain level, I think that they are not reconcilable within this life. there will always be a residue of the old self which will not go away until it’s dead.
    At the collective level, these contradictions are magnified to a much larger scale and they multiply.

    If I give alms at the personal level, I cannot expect the state to act the same and somehow pass a law that alms-giving become mandatory lest I’m in the company of milleniarist and socialist movements which are profoundly anti-Christian, complete parodies of the Christian way of life.

  15. Mihai Avatar

    To back-up what I am saying, I will quote an interview with an Orthodox author (James L Kelley)- the passages I am quoting discussing this very thing. He explains things better than I do:

    You look into Carl Schmitt’ work, a political thinker from the turn of the 20th century, who was rather politically incorrect, according to present standards. What raised your interest in this philosopher, who is quite underestimated today?

    Carl Schmitt mounted a devastating critique of Romanticism in his early work. He was influenced by Kierkegaard in the 1920’s, and, as a cultural and spiritual critique of Romanticism, his work is unequalled. Schmitt also make a crucial distinction between two categories of existence that I call “reciprocity” and “transcendence.” Reciprocity is the level of “law and order.” Even if I personally am a glorified saint, and thus live at least some of the time above the need for food, law, or direction, I cannot abolish law and order, since there are people in the world who are not saints, and thus who still need direction, protection, and an economy that allows them to eat and exist. So, the political is operative at this level of reciprocity. Is violence wrong at the level of reciprocity? Violence is always a sin, but does that mean that we should abolish organized police action and state military action? Any society that seriously considers putting this into practice is so decadent and out of touch with reciprocity that they can truly be called nihilist. So, no one has the right to abolish, or even consider abolishing authority per se. It may sound obvious, but there are still people where I live that believe that aggression should be outlawed. Would such people have the courage to protect their own children from an intruder? You have to use violence to do away with violence, so we are dealing with an ineluctable feature of the fallen world: the political. Now, if everybody jumped up and became a saint at the same time, then we would be a law unto ourselves. But until such time, some kind of authority and force is going to be legitimated, at least provisionally, in the here and now. The level of sainthood and theosis in this life is “transcendence,” which is above the law, but which is also outside of politics. Theosis influences politics indirectly, saints advise worldly leaders, and so on. However, sainthood cannot become a normative law. I cannot promulgate a statute that says: become a saint. However, I can pass a law that says “do not steal.” There is much more to say on this, but that will suffice to show what I am finding in Schmitt so far.

    Taking into consideration the interpretation you do for Carl Schmitt and the distinction you make between the moral ascetic level and the legal one, what place would you see for the byzantine symphony?

    The byzantine symphonia has many affinities with Schmitt’s work, but that is because Schmitt is trying to avoid the contradictions of Western modernity while preserving the quasi-independence of spirituality from politics. Orthodoxy also does not present politics as an earthly struggle to make people saints. Yes, we pray for victories for Orthodox Christians, but it is understood that Christ triumphs only in illuminated nouses. However, it just so happens that societies that pursue what I call “reciprocity,” or “law and order to preserve freedoms” are desirable so that individuals can follow a relatively dispassionate existence unhindered by adverse conditions. But, we cannot come up with a set of preordained rules for ordering society that correspond to the path to theosis. We are dealing with constant reajustments and compromises. Here Schmitt helps because he cuts to the heart of liberal (and conservative) political theories and shows how and why they are fragile. However, a prophet he was not, and we have many unanswered questions about exactly how an Orthodox Christian relates to the state.

  16. Scott Avatar

    This is my own personal opinion. Some will say they forgive a lawbreaker but want the state to handle the process of dragging the offender to prison, which is essentially a monastery of violence and black markets run by racist gangs. In this case, the person may think they’ve released the debt, but they’ve just handed the debt to a collection agency.

    To the world, anyone who does otherwise is a chump. Protect yourself, protect your family, don’t be a chump! Is God a chump for letting the rain fall on both the righteous and the wicked? Was Paul a chump for saying, “Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?”

    I think Jesus has called us to forgive to the point of the world calling us chumps.

  17. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Why complicate matters of faith that are actually simplistic to begin with.
    My first thought after reading this post was the purpose of Forgiveness Vespers. Upon my first attendance I needed to be taught why I was asking forgiveness from those I never personally offended nor do I really “know” them. Father addresses line of thought here.
    Also, I have to remind myself of the great significance of the Lenten services…that the lessons are meant to be carried with us throughout the year, and renewed each year at Lent. The first and foremost service, I think, is Forgiveness Vespers.

  18. Mihai Avatar

    @Scott: would you like your children to play in a neighborhood where you know that child-molesters and traffickers run free because “you have forgiven them” and don’t want to let them go to one of those prisons? Yes or no.?

    Everybody is good at theory and forgiving in some abstract and idealized situations, but unless you are hermit and completely surrender your life into the hands of God, life in a social setting presents some very concrete, practical problems that cannot be simplified through abstractions.

    Christ’s command to forgive does not mean: let the mayhem run amok and don’t do anything about it….
    Such was never the understanding of the Church, in absolutely no period of history…

  19. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    “I think Jesus has called us to forgive to the point of the world calling us chumps.”
    You’ve got a way of saying things Scott 🙂 I like that you don’t hide behind a mask.
    I agree with your comment. Another way I’d say this is to bear the shame of being called a chump. Could it be that we are trying to save some kind of “face” we have of ourselves? Father has said we have yet to know who we really are. Best to follow our Lord. He has our best interests at heart!

  20. Mihai Avatar

    To give just one example of how complex this problem is and how it cannot be reduced to the “just let things go their course” mentality, let’s take Saint Paisios the Aghiorite. You will not find a person more given to self-sacrifice and forgiving of enemies than himself. He scolded his mother for refusing to give food to a communist in his village who almost killed them. He refused to take revenge on those who persecuted him and his family and even brought them food and saved their lives when they were persecuted down themselves.

    Yet, St Paisios participated as a soldier in the civil war in Greece which happened after WW2. He prayed to St Varvara that he would rather be killed than kill anyone. So he was granted a role as a transmissions officer. He never had to use his riffle. Yet, many times he described situations where he and his comrades were surrounded by enemy troops and he barely managed to call the aviation to save them and help them breakout of the encirclement. Save them how? Of course, by bombing enemy positions.
    So he never killed anyone himself, which is an important thing, but he did participate in the war, he did- indirectly- call down bombs on enemy troops. He had appreciation for the soldiers who fought for the country and was himself a patriot.

    Why do I give this example? To show how life in this world presents us with some very mixed situations that cannot be so easily and so clearly separated into the simple black-white description that people here describe.

    It is a lot easier to talk about this stuff abstractly, with life not in danger, in a relatively safe environment, in front of a laptop screen. But for the majority of the human race, until recent times, things were never so simple.

    This is my last post on this topic, forgive me if I upset anyone. (no pun intended)

  21. Salaam Yitbarek Avatar
    Salaam Yitbarek

    Thanks very much, Father. There is much to ponder here. You’ve helped me recognize that I do often hypocritically ‘forgive’ people yet wish their incarceration for all our safety – well actually my safety. But might not incarceration be the best spiritual medicine. Or the best forgiveness in some cases. A type of penance. Or perhaps removal or reduction of temptation of a certain sort. In the country I’m in now it’s generally recognized that ‘tough’ policing reduces crime drastically. If people stop themselves from committing crimes out of fear, not out of love, is this still not a good thing, I wonder?

  22. Scott Avatar

    I agree that for almost all people including myself, total forgiveness is a theory hard to practice, which reminds me of Chesterton’s quote:

    “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”

  23. Christopher Avatar


    I think one reason I want to stick to the language of sacrifice is because I believe it is a way to transcend to the dialectic of good and evil – which I believe (contra possibly yourself – certainly Hart, your friend Fr. Adian and others) is a rational trap. For example, I think you have just pushed the Manichean problematic from the ontology of this world into the ontology of the Eschaton, thus my questions about remembrance and the relationship between the Eschaton and time.

    Your point about Christology is important, but then it is another way to beg the question of this Eschaton/time problematic I think. If it is possible to live without sin, yet we are also told that nobody actually does other than Christ, then what is the meaning of this possible yet not-existent-in-time distinction exactly? Are we to then say that because the Eschaton also exists (and is even here, now) that this nullifies the dialectic (i.e. the two story problem)?!? On the contrary it *maintains* the two story dialectic but just in another way!

    Sacrifice, or “sacrificial time” may be a way to rationally perceive the both/and of good and evil in our life without the Manichean metaphysic that then is negated by what essentially is a philosophical turn – why I say that Hart is a philosopher and not a theologian.

    Regardless on the usefulness of my concepts/speculations, if we end up at a place that rejects a way to live in this garden of good and evil that while affirming the Good Garden/Kingdom, nevertheless breaks the continuity of my life in this present garden of good *and* evil by saying there can be no possible Justice and justification of this time spent in this garden, well then the Kingdom and my life in it is not really me – and the resurrection is not a resurrection at all but the birth of someone and something completely new and foreign to this life, this person, this creation called “Christopher” that for now lives in this present garden. Somehow this present sinful life has to be taken up, and thus justified, into Christ’s life or it is a nihilism and nothing at all.

    Perhaps related to what Dino was saying there is a *time* for sacrifice, and a time when yes you kill (the weeds, the rabbit, and perhaps even your neighbor). If our lives are not justified and preserved and made whole in the Kingdom, we then are “resurrected” in a radical “new Creation” that has no organic, ontological or metaphysical link to the our life in time.

    The “forensic” imagery of Scripture preserves for us (so I assert) a realism and reality missing in the above – that we each can only make radical sacrifice of ourselves (or our children, community, nation) for our enemies once. We can only die once. On top of that there is no man that lives and sins not except Christ, so his Sacrifice is something that I can not accomplish and my sacrifice is organically related to his *even with the sin* that is part of mine and every life. Yes, I believe I am (or can be) justified by Christ, and time is justified, and forgiveness is related to justice not as an attribute of the same *thing* or end, but in the same way the mystery of the knowledge of good and evil is swallowed up in the Kingdom of Life.

  24. Dino Avatar

    Scott, Mihai,
    there is no virtue that is a virtue (including even faith, hope, love and humility) without the ‘salt’ of discernment.

  25. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    “And He never forgave and he never forgot….” these words and similar were added to Tolkien’s character, Thorin in the movie ‘the Hobit’. These writers added these words I believe intentionally to make them resemble the 911 slogan. The driving force in Thorin’s character was ‘to his mind’ the ‘re-establishment of the home’ for his people and to ‘restore their honor’. The reality was, however, that the dragon sickness was in his heart. The dragon sickness of love for gold. The sickness which would undermine him and is own goal ‘to be king’.

    The Tolkien stories have wonderful layers of lessons in virtue.

  26. Anonymous Avatar

    St. Dionysios of Zankynthos, the Saint of forgiveness, (his memorable life is profound to read about) showed us the heavenly path of forgiveness during his earthly life, and continues to show us the heavenly path of the Kingdom as he is a Wonderworking Saint, leading us to God.

    From Orthodoxwiki:

    “Dionysios grants his people many blessings; and many miracles are reported in connection with his ministry.

    For example, when the Greek Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas was destroyed on September 11, 2001, during the World Trade Center attack, only two things were recovered intact: a cross and a paper icon of Dionysios.”

    St. Dionysios of Zankynthos, please pray for us!

  27. Mihai Diaconu Avatar
    Mihai Diaconu

    Basically what Dino said. Pray for discernment. I don’t see the point of trying to come up with some overarching reason structure that will work regardless of context. For that to be it would need to have an eternal character and nothing that we construct or make in the world of flesh or ideas has that. The only things that have an eternal character were either revealed to us or were given to us in His infinite mercy. I spent a good long time “whatIFing” and really all it was, was me being “of little faith” and it still happens, and of being negligent or dismissive of God. The commandment of forgiveness IS simple, that’s what makes it hard. You can hide all sorts of things in “complexities” of thought, all sorts of little evils, but mostly its a sly way of rationalizing why not to do something. It IS simple, it’s just not easy. Pray, ask God for the ability to discern when it is “a time to be born and a time to die.
    A time to plant and a time to harvest.
    A time to kill and a time to heal.
    A time to tear down and a time to build up.
    A time to cry and a time to laugh.
    A time to grieve and a time to dance.
    A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
    A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
    A time to search and a time to quit searching.
    A time to keep and a time to throw away.
    A time to tear and a time to mend.
    A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
    A time to love and a time to hate.
    A time for war and a time for peace.”

  28. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Excuse the capitalization of ‘He’it wasn’t intended — a typo

  29. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Scott…which is why we take part in the ritual of Forgiveness Vespers every single year! It is a constant reminder of that which we are called to practice for the very reason we have not experienced it in its totality. We are in the process of healing, and becoming ‘like Christ’. Really, its totality, or fullness, will be known in the age to come. But that doesn’t stop Christ from telling us to forgive. He does not offer any exceptions, does He. Even His betrayer He washed the feet of. Yes Scott, Christianity has been found difficult and not tried, but there are some who are seriously trying!

  30. Christopher Avatar


    In my opinion there is, if not directly in our haigraphy, then in some strands of our common piety, a kind of “immaculate existence” (to put a twist on the immaculate conception) attributed to the Saints. This piety does not appear to admit the reality of Saint Paisios role in that war – the point of it is to say that he is preserved from the actual blood and killing….did Saint George really kill that dragon, and what is a dragon? 😉

  31. Scott Avatar

    “@Scott: would you like your children to play in a neighborhood where you know that child-molesters and traffickers run free because ‘you have forgiven them’ and don’t want to let them go to one of those prisons? Yes or no.?”

    Again, my personal opinion, but I’d rather not send someone to prison. For most folks not in the lower classes, prison is a black box where bad guys are sent for years where I don’t have to see it and the bad guys come out better.

    There was never a better-devised place than prison to make a man more prone to untruth. If you confess to certain crimes, you can be beaten or stabbed. If you cooperate with the authorities, you can be beaten or stabbed. Black markets, drugs, sodomy, race gangs, and being separated from your wife and children do not make a better man.

    Barring forgiveness, if we could at least go back to swift, harsh penalties like whipping, then a man could be sent home to his family with his criminal record written on his back.

  32. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    At my age when there is more years behind than ahead, I’ve learned invaluable lessons through my sojourn in a Christian life. One such lesson was it became easier to forgive when I was able to perceive what dragon lurks in my own heart.

  33. Byron Avatar

    Agreed, Scott. The Chesterton quote is excellent.

    There’s little doubt that these are very difficult and complex issues but there are also the examples of the Martyrs, who did watch their loved ones be tortured to death and die themselves, often quite brutally. I am reminded that the Church is a hospital; here to help us heal from sin–and sin, if nothing else, is violence. If we fall into violence, there is still grace.

    Father’s answer above seems, to me, to already be the answer for what is being asked.

    “If I suggested that we can practice radical forgiveness without it costing us our lives – that would be sentimentalization. I do not suggest such a thing. I’m clear that it will cost us everything.”

    The cost of carrying the Cross is total and there are none of us who can carry it perfectly as Christ did. Glory to God that He is full of mercy and compassion!

  34. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Forgiving does something physical and good to the Higgs field. Although some might think this statement is pitifully laughable.

  35. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Father forgive me!! I’m throwing so many statements like peas into the air!😄

  36. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Scott, re: a whipping… if I were given the option to choose between a whipping or to confess my dark secret sins…well……
    But when you receive the love of Christ in His forgiveness through confession (especially standing before Him, looking straight at His image) it makes it possible to bear such shame. Long time, it takes for healing. But He does heal. And then, no surprise, you begin to be more forgiving yourself. It’s a beautiful thing, He does.

  37. Shannon Avatar

    Re: your replies to Martial et al about the state etc. I think St Paul made it clear that the state was to maintain order, and he even alluded to punishing evil-doers as a function. The state can show mercy, via the judge, but its role is not “forgiveness “ at all. Just like charity and almsgiving is not (or rather should not) be a state’s function. It is not a moral being, and has no soul. Christ spoke to us, never to governments. If a government practiced ‘forgiveness’ in the way Christians are supposed to, there would be chaos.

    Your points on loosening of bondage are spot-on and enlightening.
    And on another aspect of your (excellent) post, there is a whole book about the topic of third party forgiveness from a Holocaust perspective: the Sunflower, by Simon Wiesenthal. I recommend it , but not necessarily its conclusions about the subject, as my read was years ago, and ‘pre-Orthodox ‘.

  38. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    It is far too complex a subject to engage your argument, point-by-point. I do not, however, think I have said anything simplistic. If it is simplistic then it is because the gospel is simplistic. (I do not think it is). I find nothing in the dogma of the Church on the notion of “symphonia.” It’s trotted out all the time as an Orthodox notion – and it’s a notion that has certainly been out there among the Orthodox. It is not, however, a matter of dogma.

    The argument that our lives, the lives of monasteries, etc., depend on violence and only the simplistic, naive folks think otherwise, is a false argument. I would suggest that we have monasteries Churches, etc., despite the violence (often done “in their name”). They are, however, greatly diminished through such efforts and much of the life of the Church is deeply compromised and diluted by this form of thought. It contradicts the entire martyric witness of the Church – and – I think – may even border on blasphemy to suggest that God requires the violence of the state in order make present the Kingdom of God.

    All of these arguments are, I think, grounded in assumptions that are ultimately false. Though he is not an Orthodox thinker, I would suggest reading and considering some of the work of Stanley Hauerwas on the topic of Christianity and violence. It is far from simplistic or naive – but makes a case that is consistent with much of Orthodox thought – particularly that part of our life that has not been coopted by some earthly civilization that makes pretense to be the preserver of Orthodoxy. His book, The Peaceable Kingdom: A Primer in Christian Ethics, is at least worth a read and a consideration from an Orthodox point of view.

    I studied a few years under him – and sometimes argued strongly with him – including invoking the very arguments you are making. I found myself bested on many occasions and will have to say Reinhold Niebuhr and a fairly Protestant perspective. Hauerwas was not aware of the Orthodox treatment of killing (even in wartime) as a sin requiring penance. I’ve never posed that conversation with him and wonder what he would make of it (in contrast to Western Just War Theory).

    I will add (as an afterthought) that Byzantium, Holy Russia, etc., are not the story of Jesus, nor of the Church. We make a serious mistake when we forget this. The Church has frequently (and often) been the subject of persecution by those very “Orthodox” states. There is a sort of historical fascination with them that truly forgets. Under the Tsars, the Church had been reduced to a mere department of state, with a layman in charge – utterly ignoring the true nature of Orthodoxy. The Church has lived in spite of these things and continues to live after these various entities have been consigned to the dust-bin of history. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is the story of the Church – and that is alone how we will be judged and how we must live.

  39. Mark Northey Avatar
    Mark Northey

    Something I have found in the Orthodox Way that gives me great peace, is an unwavering and undiluted commitment to Christ’s gospel- so poignant in the sermon on the mount and beatitudes prayed every Liturgy, and made present and real to us in the shining lives of our greatest saints.
    This is not a “moral program;” it is a witness to another way- a Kingdom not of this world. Christ is unambiguous in his teachings about our response to enemies. But I am ambiguous in my own self. I am still becoming the “little Christ” that is my own true identity. Therefore the Orthodox Way is oekonomic and pastoral, always concerned with the salvation of each unique person in each specific circumstance.

    Thus, I can at once say that I should love my enemies as dearly as my own wife and children- with the perfect, indiscriminate love of God the Father. AND, I fail to do this miserably and daily, and in a certain sense I shouldn’t expect to be able to live as I aught (humility and honesty are virtues). Love of enemies is not a moral formula, it is a beautiful flower that Christ teaches might bloom in our hearts (i.e. theosis; the Kingdom of Heaven).
    This seems a fitting resolution to the question of Christians who feel constrained to use violence to protect themselves and others. It is sin; it is not of the Kingdom. So we go astray when we “plan” for it- justify it and expect it. With St Piaisios we should pray that we never have to kill and strive for this love, but work out our salvation humbly in the specific circumstances God sends us in his wisdom and providence. Our Way is not moral perfection, but repentance: We fall and get up, fall and get up, fall and get up.

    To make elaborate justifications for killing- whether in self defense or defense of the nation- is not thinking according to the Kingdom. This is where I think Father is right: in so doing we are trying to manage things. We are recognizing Christ’s teachings as impractical and worrying about tomorrow, etc.
    The sorts of “what if….?” scenarios that some here are bringing up as driving us to make room to “legitimize” violence, would be similar to the litany of hypothetical scenarios that may seem to “legitimize” divorce, or “necessitate” an abortion. But we do not dwell on such things at the wedding or when a child is conceived- instead we witness to the path of theosis, of Christ’s Kingdom (what God has joined together let no man tear apart; and all life is sacred), then we deal personally, pastorally, oekonomically with specific challenging scenarios (an abusive spouse; cases of harmful mental illness; a pregnancy threatening the mother’s life, etc.).

    It is more faithful to keep things clear and focused on the Kingdom of Heaven, proclaiming a scandalous love of enemies even at great cost, than to enter the quagmire of “what if’s” that might bring a Christian to violent action.

    May God help us to forgive a little more, and become a bit more peaceable;
    -Mark Basil

  40. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    Thank you, Father.

  41. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    An amazing amount of mileage has been made of a single verse in St. Paul where he acknowledges some sort of role of the Emperor in punishing vice. A single verse is thin ice for basing an entire theory of Church and State – though this has been done conveniently for a long time. There is, however, far more Scripture that suggests a deeper understanding of the matter. Hitler, after all, was the state. The very Emperor who had St. Paul’s head cut off was the same Emperor he would have been referencing in his comment. It’s – not as straightforward as it is made to seem.

  42. William Avatar

    Dear Father Stephen:
    I understand Christ teaching of forgiveness and that forgiving is “loosing”while refusing to forgive is “binding.”
    Yet, as the old saying goes the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. God’s universe is extremely beautiful and extremely brutal. Sublime and terrifying. “Natural” disasters have been responsible for more death, misery and mayhem of humans and beasts that any man-made actions by a long shot and they are usually called “Gods Actions”.
    Is killing ever justified? We kill all the time and we feel OK , certainly we kill viruses, bacteria, plants, insects, varmints, fish, farm animals, etc. Some people stop at the plants. Why?
    Conflict is part of God’s creation. Is there such a thing as just war? May be, may be not. The Bible names plenty of battles. Where all of them unjust and wrong?
    In any case, I have great respect for anybody that is putting their own life at risk and going to war or a police action for the general defense or protection of others. I understand it takes a tremendous amount of courage to be a martyr; but, I know that also takes a lot of courage to walk into harm ways to defend or protect others.

  43. Fr. Marty Watt Avatar

    Fr. Silviu Bunta recently did an interview that was posted on youtube. He made the point that on a very basic level, sinners wanted to be around Christ. They were pulled to him because they knew his love would never serve to throw them out of the house. (Forgive my paraphrase – his response was much more robust than my one-line summary.)

    So, in that sense, we might be able to understand forgiveness as allowing someone to stay in the Kingdom (House) of God, without conditions. We don’t necessarily need to forget – but we must have love that overcomes the evil. That is, as I imperfectly understand it, what Christ did for me.

  44. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    The “old saying” is not a Christian saying. The only thing to do about the triumph of evil is for God to triumph over it. The NT says, “Overcome evil by doing good.” That puts some constraint on our actions – but assumes that the goodness of God, as manifest in Jesus Christ, is sufficient for overcoming evil. We do not do “nothing.” We keep the commandments of Christ. We begin to live as a community that embodies the life and death and resurrection of Christ, such that His life, death, and resurrection make sense. That is living the gospel.

    What we have in Just War theory is living a different story – in which, at best, the story of Jesus is a religious artifact to be discussed but not the basis of life.

  45. Shannon Avatar

    Nevertheless one verse by Paul is worth paragraphs by saints centuries later. Also, my theory of church-state is not propped solely one that one verse, but on decades of focused thought and study.
    A state can be moral or immoral, but it will never stand at the dread judgment. I do not want my government “turning the other cheek”, nor giving alms, though it pretends to do so. (The only way for a government to give anything is to take it from someone else- a violation of the Sinai Law. No eternal good can EVER be accomplished by stealing from one man to give to another. It makes the Left feel good, but it’s a lie from the enemy. )
    The state can no more “forgive” and can no more “show charity” than it can pray. All are impossible. Therefore it should do what it is formed to do.
    Thank you.

  46. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I’m not a political theorist, but there are lots of saints who would suggest that the state can do a lot viz. property and such. It’s odd that you feel it’s ok for the state to take off a man’s head, but not to take his house or money.

    All things belong to God – we are only ever stewards.

    Of course, please note that in my article, I have made no suggestions regarding what the state should or shouldn’t do. I have spoken and written about Christians. Even when the state is extremely evil, Christ’s commandments remain the same for believers.

    However, my experience is that American Christians have lots and lots of ideas about government. I do not. They wouldn’t listen to me anyway.

  47. Nell Avatar

    I prefer the Catechism of the Catholic Church on this — Legitimate defense:

    2263 The legitimate defense of persons and societies is not an exception to the prohibition against the murder of the innocent that constitutes intentional killing. “The act of self-defense can have a double effect: the preservation of one’s own life; and the killing of the aggressor. . . . The one is intended, the other is not.”

    2264 Love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality. Therefore it is legitimate to insist on respect for one’s own right to life. Someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow:

    If a man in self-defense uses more than necessary violence, it will be unlawful: whereas if he repels force with moderation, his defense will be lawful. . . . Nor is it necessary for salvation that a man omit the act of moderate self-defense to avoid killing the other man, since one is bound to take more care of one’s own life than of another’s.

    2265 Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm. For this reason, those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility.

  48. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Father Stephen,
    I ask this sincerely. How does a post on forgiveness so very quickly turn to a defense for violence? I don’t know any other way to ask this…and yes, I do tend to reason simplistically, though I know it is not a simple matter. I can understand the difficult questions about wars, self/family defense, but what I find interesting is that they come up when the topic is about forgiveness. Are people saying we should not forgive? Are they concerned as to what it may entail? And what may result?

    Christ makes it very clear throughout the Gospels that because we have been forgiven, that we forgive. It is the love of Christ, yet imperfect in us, yes…but the way to being what we were created to be…one with God. Is this too simplistic Father?

  49. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Yes, that is a good example of Catholic Just War Theory. I am Orthodox and not Catholic.

  50. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    It’s a difficult topic for many – and they mean very well and hold much of these thoughts quite deeply.

    What I think (take it for what it’s worth) – is that among the most deeply held ideas in our modern culture are various modern theories of the State. People are far more certain of various political ideas than they are of almost any religious doctrine. The State is, if you will, one of the primary doctrines of modernity. We are bathed in this stuff.

    I would suggest that St. Paul never in all of his life had a thought about the relationship of Church and State. The reason I say this is because the nation state is pretty much a modern invention and phenomenon. It is such an all-pervasive thought and phenomenon that most people cannot imagine not having it. It is among the most certain things that people have.

    As such, I think that the Christian faith has been “gutted” by this aspect of modernity, perhaps by more than any other thing. It is difficult to think one’s way through it.

    As a young man in high school – I was required to write an essay on citizenship in a class. At that time, I was reading a lot of Thoreau and Tolstoy. My essay suggested that citizenship was a false idea and that I refused it. The teacher refused my paper and told me I could not believe it…that did not sit well to my 17 year-old mind. It was poorly thought out – but my instinct that the State wasn’t really anything at all – just a “construct” was – I think – a correct instinct – but I didn’t know what to do about it.

    The issue of forgiveness, as taught by Christ, has a way of bringing all of this out. I respect the fact that this is difficult for many. It has been for me as well.

  51. sgage Avatar

    Wait, Father…
    Are you saying that the Gospels were not written as a guide to being a polite and self-effacing citizen of a modern nation-state? Say it ain’t so! 😉

    I have been reading and re-reading the Gospels for decades now, and what strikes me as forcefully today (maybe moreso!) than it did when I was a callow youth, is just how radical the commandments of Christ really are. I mean over the top radical. Scary radical.

    It doesn’t fit with ‘modern’ sensibilities at all, yet people try so hard to make Christianity into just something that good and nice people do – especially the evangelical Christians that I know.

    I have been grappling with Christ’s words and teachings for a long time, and they still shock me and stun me. They are not for the facilitation of business as usual.

  52. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Thank you Father. I needed that explanation. I do respect other people’s thoughts, and I can see that they go deep. And now I understand and accept how it is that the subject of forgiveness brings these issues to the fore. Thanks again.

  53. Byron Avatar

    Nevertheless one verse by Paul is worth paragraphs by saints centuries later.

    I am always careful to point out that St. Paul’s statement concerning government should be balanced by St. John’s statements on the same topic in his Revelation. I would also be careful to not “rank” Saints by timeframe. The Church recognizes them; that is enough.

    That said, the State is not the vehicle or administrator of salvation. I tend to wince at most of the discussion that revolves around this topic, as if the State plays any role at all in salvation. It’s existence is really irrelevant. In most situations, the supposed safety bubble it provides is at least as harmful as it is helpful.

  54. Mihai Avatar

    Father, out of everything I said you singled out the symphony part, and used half of your commentary to attack it. That was not part of the conversation, it was mentioned in passing in that interview I quoted and it is beside the point.

    The point is that, like it or not, a society, existence in this world needs garments of skin to function. This includes state, police, armies. Absolutely no Father or Saint thought otherwise, in no period of history.
    To want someone who is a mortal danger to people around him to be contained in a prison or something of the sort has nothing to do with revenge or forgivness…it is as natural as wanting to heal your organism from the effects of a virus. Yes, there are ascetics who do not want to be healed by earhly means, but await God’s decision in the matter. Yet you cannot force such a thing on everyone and suggest that anyone who is not doing this is unfaithful to Christ. Same goes on the social level.

  55. Doug Avatar

    Dear Fr Stephen,
    Thank you for this thoughtful hermeneutic/exegesis. I cannot say that I entirely understand it and will need to sit with it awhile. Meantime, I have never been quite sure what the words “binding” and “loosing” mean. If you can throw light on these, I would be grateful, either in a separate article or by email.
    Again, many thanks.
    Grace and blessings be upon you.

  56. Dino Avatar

    Father & Mihai,
    Some thoughts without answers on management and garments of skin:
    I retain Elder Sophrony’s description of the tremendous freedom he experienced whilst living in a cave near New Skete on Athos: he emphasised that this liberty felt so intense, not because he had no human ‘managing’ him from above, but because he was the manager of nobody ‘below’ him…
    The fact that we are often appointed (by God and his representatives) in positions of authority, to be in charge, accountable, and responsible for the safekeeping of people and things (whether as priests, abbots, disciples, emperors, parents, policemen or prophets etc), inevitably means that we cannot always escape some “management”. However, a great deal of management of the heart, (i.e.: the nous must be the guardian and master of it) is primary to any right management of something ‘outside the heart’.
    Take the supremely absolute setup of an anchorite (who has shunned everything to live – or rather, to die the sooner possible– as a martyr awaiting “grace to come and this world to pass away” (Didache 10:6). Such an all-encompassing fervour –its mere possibility– must always be our inspiration.
    “Within reason and with discernment”, one might say. I agree, but only if we also remember that Christ lived amongst the people (being the Priest, King and Prophet of all) and held his face steadfastly set upon the Cross/Jerusalem (Luke 9:51), to such a degree that we would consider only an anchorite in a cave like Elder Sophrony can possibly approach. But Christ is our inspiration, no matter what our context.
    The ‘compromised’ setup we live in as compared to an anchorite, “but a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world-how he can please his wife-and his interests are divided.” (Corinthians 7:33) are, as I see it, a huge manifestation of the garments of skin.
    The societal order or disorder which we find ourselves in, will always be the world encountered by Adam and Eve once expulsed from paradise.

  57. William Avatar

    Dear Father Stephen:

    I agree with your statement that “People are far more certain of various political ideas than they are of almost any religious doctrine.” I am probably one of them.

    As I read history, I can see the terrible consequences of some political doctrines. There are several lists of genocides by death toll to be found in the web, all are somewhat different from each other. Yet they give a clear picture that political ideologies matter a lot. Just an example, the “Great Leap Forward” one of the largest by far resulted in 15 to 55 million deaths. Abortion on demand resulted in many tens of millions of babies killed. Some of the numbers put the death toll on 250 million abortions worldwide.

    We shall always look at our eternal life but we are on this earthly life with a purpose. Parenting probably being the most important. Dino said: The ‘compromised’ setup we live in as compared to an anchorite, an he cited the scripture “but a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world-how he can please his wife-and his interests are divided. This is true but it is also self evident that God’s creation and purpose on earth is mostly fulfilled by “broken”, “compromised”, and “sinful” human beings and not Anchorites. The way, we organize our affairs as families, communities, nation states, do matter; and any such organization will have the same imperfect attributes as a reflection of our individual faults. Still, some are significantly better than others as history teaches us.

    All I can say is that I truly believe in Jesus Christ and that we should follow his teaching of forgiveness in our individual lives. I had some close encounters with premature death and I was not really afraid. I was just mostly anxious thinking how things actually work in the crossing. As I grow older, it will no longer be premature but I am still not afraid. In the mean time, I try to do the best I can. I wish I could find a written page of instructions on what God’s expect from me but I don’t.

  58. Dino Avatar

    One more thing:
    Perhaps more than anything else, I think, if there is a specific thing that genuinely authorizes our unreserved participation in utter forgiveness of all, it is our preparation for and “pre-participation” in, our Paschal exodus from this life. This is an existential re-orientation. It offers a holy detachment (from the petty & paltry, –which is so hugely significant for almost everyone).
    This Earth is but a womb from which we must be birthed into the eternal light. There is both decay and ripening taking place while we’re still here.
    Our Heaven-wards and God-wards orientation liberates us – gradually detaches us – from the unavoidability of the ‘garments of skin’ we wear here, because it re-orientsour whole being, and in so doing makes petty molehills out of what is, for others, significant mountains.
    ‘Heavenwards’ holding of our “face steadfastly set upon our ‘exit’ (Luke 9:51) from this womb, and ‘Godwards’ remembrance of how much we have been forgiven of (Matthew 18:27), are two things that are, to a significant degree, up to us, and which also affect our immediate surroundings, as well as a great deal more -in a mystical way.
    The general societal order or disorder in which we find ourselves on the other hand, are things that are usually far less up to us, and their management (if specifically appointed towards this) again can be blessed rightly to the degree one has the above ”orientation” and the especial discernment that comes from it.

  59. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    You’re correct. Sorry to have “gone off” on the one thing. The “garments of skin” is a useful model for thinking of these things. They are, I would think, an aspect of God’s providence, how He cares for us. There is a sort of “provisional” aspect to them.

    I think my point (at least the one in my head) is that of an “economia” that many treat as though it were the “good” itself. In the article (which doesn’t have political theory) my concern is towards the commandments of Christ. It seems to me that when we turn our attention to the state, and its economy of violence, we are turning to a “lesser good” or, rather, a “permitted action under certain controlled circumstances.”

    That fits with the article quite well. My concern is not to mistake “that which is permitted” for the commandments of Christ. When we kill someone to protect another – it still has the burden of sin (not in a legal sense, but ontologically).

    Sorry to have responded so problematically.

  60. victoria Avatar

    Father Stephen / Shannon

    Regarding this quote “A state can be moral or immoral, but it will never stand at the dread judgment” – I think it is incorrect to say the nations will not be judged.

    Father – maybe you can clarify but in the Psalm 110:6 it actually says “He shall judge the nations”. In Matthew chapter 25 it says so as well – that He shall gather the nations in judgement but he separate the goats from the sheep from within the nations. I think e en Isaiah makes reference to this as well.

  61. Mihai Avatar

    Father, thank you. I don’t think any truly Orthodox Christian can regard the state and the whole order of forensic justice as anything but the lesser good or the unavoidable burden (i don t call it evil, as God Himself made these provisions, as can be seen in the OT).
    But as things stand now, it is part of our lives. And it is better than any utopia one might conjure up and which trully leads to a greater evil, as seen in our quite recent , modern history.

  62. Christopher Avatar

    “Forgiveness that works by justice is no forgiveness at all.”

    What is justice? God is Good. What is the “activity” of the goodness of God in the creation – how is that good manifested? I believe Justice is a way/word to describe the existence and “state” or being of the good manifested in time and outside of it -Justice is an attribute of God.

    When God delivered the Law unto Moses, did he do so in vain? Does he deliver a “binding” only to “loosen” later, and if so is the later loosening a negation and abnegation of the original binding? If so then there is an *arbitrariness* to the good, and the hallowed name of God is not Father but Chaos.

    In the parable of the unforgiving servant God forgives a debt. He loosens the bindings. These bindings are the “result” of Justice – if sin is the privation of the Good, the the bindings are sin and sin is the “cause” (ontologically) of the bindings. As the parable unfolds the servant does not himself unbind, and God at the end binds the servant and we are told also loosen “from the heart” then the Father will “do” to each of jus. Justice is not abnegated at all – and the loosening is not a negation of Justice and only makes sense at all in the context of Justice.

    Forgiveness stands on its own, or rather forgiveness is *personal*. Forgiveness is not a negation of the just and good – a debt is still a debt no matter if it is “binding” or “loosening” you personally at any given point in time. A debt (and thus Justice) stands on its own – whether it is “binding” or “loosening” you at any given point in time. Otherwise, we have not escaped the Manichean dialectic…

  63. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Hmmm. Just some thoughts – a bit random, I guess:

    I think of justice in terms of “putting things into their right place and relation,” as in the Jubilee. The Jubilee seems to be something of an icon of the great “right-putting” in the coming “Day of the Lord.” So, in that sense, the loosing and forgiveness of debt is a setting things right. God cancels debts (including the ontological ones) that we might live in the freedom for which we’re created. That imagery undergirds how I try to think through this.

    Justice never imposes a debt. It might well take from one and give to another – in order to set things right.

    I was reading in the Psalms last night and was struck repeatedly that “righteousness” in that context is almost always spoken of in the context of God coming to the aid of the poor – delivering them from the oppression of those who have become wealthy. Also, NT, “The rich He hath sent empty away…”

    Debt seems to be a binding – an exercising of power over the other. It pretty much has no good associations attached to it anywhere in Scripture. The loosing seems connected with the “glorious liberty of the Sons of God”.

    The word “apokatastasis” (which has come to be too narrowed in its meaning) – really means the “putting things back where they belong.” Forgiveness is, for me, best understood in that metaphor.

  64. Byron Avatar

    The societal order or disorder which we find ourselves in, will always be the world encountered by Adam and Eve once expulsed from paradise.

    Thanks for this clarity, Dino.

  65. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    Thank you Fr. Marty Watt, for my wonderful morning with Fr Silviu Bunta.

  66. Christopher Avatar

    Hum, difficult to cut through the language here – seems to be no small amount of talking past each other. Christ says that He comes to fulfill the Law, not negate/destroy it.

    If “apokatastasis” is a “putting things back where they belong”, then it is Justice right? So forgiveness can not be a “loosening” from Justice itself. It is due to the Justice of God (and not an abnegation of it) that the unforgiving servant is put in prison (so is he “rebound” or was he never really loosened from his sin at all?) , and this is where we all are until we “forgive from the heart”. So again, forgiveness is an aspect of and/or a part of Justice and the good itself and not a negation of it.

    You seem to be saying that this is not the case, that the Law is a mere fundamental binding or “debt” – an exercise of isolated power disconnected/isolated from the Good itself. The loosening from this is kind of binding is itself an action of (an opposing) power – a “liberty” of Sons of God. Where in this thought is the organizing principle, that which keeps liberty from being libertarianism?

    St. Paul says the Law gives sin its “power” and then thanks God that we are given “victory” through Christ. You seem to be giving thanks for a victory over “power” (through the greater power of “liberty”), but I read St. Paul as giving thanks not for a victory over the Law itself, but rather for the victory over sin itself, such that the “power” of the Law is not negated but fulfilled.

  67. Dino Avatar

    It is not truthful to say what you said in an earlier comment of yours, that, although we are called to never sin this is impossible as there is nobody sinless other than Christ.
    I’m not alluding to the Theotokos or the Baptist here, nor am I contradicting St John’s (1 John 1:8) statement.
    I am simply restating what St Symeon the New Theologian and Elder Aimilianos strongly reiterated this notion to be the greatest ‘heresy’: that perfection/sinlessness is impossible. Such a notion is untrue.
    Although all have sinned at some point (1 John 1:8), once a person/saint is purified, illumined and especially when approaching theosis, the homecoming of the tangible Grace of the Holy Spirit in their heart renders them utterly sinless. Dispassion is feasible and is only the first step of true theology (in the sense of entering the deep mysteries of God). These rare people exist. Look at it this way: that I (and nobody else that I know) will never approach sprinting at speeds that break the 10 second barrier for 100m does not mean that there aren’t sprinters that can.
    In fact, holiness can be considered far “easier” than sprinting, as it is not genetically restricted to some, anyone, no matter the situation, has the potential for their own form of it.
    It’s as easy and as difficult as a person deciding (truly – once and for all) to change for good; everyone can do it but extremely few are earnestly willing too.

  68. Brandon Avatar

    “It is impossible to love God if one has bad feelings towards even a single individual. Understandably so. Love and hostility cannot exist in the same soul…” – Abbot Nikon Vorobiev

    I think the State could love individuals and still take away their property, but they cannot love individuals (or God) and chop off their heads.

  69. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    “The fact that we are often appointed (by God and his representatives) in positions of authority, to be in charge, accountable, and responsible for the safekeeping of people and things (whether as priests, abbots, disciples, emperors, parents, policemen or prophets etc), inevitably means that we cannot always escape some “management”. However, a great deal of management of the heart, (i.e.: the nous must be the guardian and master of it) is primary to any right management of something ‘outside the heart’.”

    Thank you, Dino

  70. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    No, I don’t think I’m saying that. Justice and apokatastasis are indeed the same thing – a “putting things back where they belong” or “right-putting.” I do not think of punishment, for example, as an example of the justice of God. It is, perhaps, a tool in making something just.

    The position of righteousness (justice) does not include debt. When we refuse to forgive – we bind ourselves as much as we bind the other – and we are bound not in a place of justice, but in a place of debt (bindedness).

    The Law is good – and, if you will, the Law revolves around the Jubilee – it is its culmination. Being in the right place, where we belong, is not libertinism, that’s a false image of liberty (“anything whatsoever”). True freedom, the liberty of the sons of God, is the liberty that comes when we are in the right place – where we truly belong – free to live in accordance to our nature and not in bondage to sin and death.

    The Law by itself was insufficient to give us the liberty that we receive in Christ. It was its intention (its “telos”) but it did not have the ability to do it. It pointed to it. Christ fulfills the Law by doing and accomplishing what the Law could not do by itself. The Sabbath Jubilee was but a shadow of that which is fulfilled in Christ – the cosmic Jubilee of the Kingdom of God. “The blind see, the lame walk, the prisoners are set free, the poor (the debtors) have good news preached to them.”

    We are, indeed, probably talking past each other.

  71. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Father, Stephen,
    Perhaps this comment will also be out of synch with the discussion at hand, however there seems to be a defensive deflection of our complicity with state-level action. You have written in previous articles that this nation has never attempted to have outwardly expressed repentance. Associated with that lack of repentance is the lack of self reflection to see ones own culpability within the state sinful actions. Rather, the preference is to say, ‘it’s not my fault’ or ‘it can’t be helped’, or ‘it’s all ‘their fault’’.

    Last, I’m sorry to disagree once more with Dino. I perceive that this lack of forgiveness has a lot to do with not valuing this earthly life and those lives of others considered to be ‘lesser’ peoples

  72. Dino Avatar

    Dee of St Hermans
    I don’t think one could possibly argue against lack of forgiveness having “a lot to do with not valuing this earthly life and those lives of others considered to be ‘lesser’ peoples”.
    My thoughts on our participation in utter forgiveness of all, being concomitant to our orientation ‘Heavenwards and ‘Godwards’ don’t contradict that anyway…
    I don’t quite see any disagreement.

  73. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Dino in this last comment you made there is no disagreement between us.

  74. Dino Avatar

    indeed, I don’t see how to fish out any disagreement whatsoever based on what you stated.

  75. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    However Kingdom of heaven is in-breaking in this life, tabernacling into this earthly realm. Christ said (Matthew 5:34) But I say to you, do not swear at all; neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne, nor by the earth for it is His footstool.

    My point is yearning for God is good, yearning to be jettisoned from this life, this earth, is something else, again. Even if this life is hell, and it is for some, wasn’t St Silouan taught to keep his mind in hell and not despair?

    Do we not say “Christ is amongst us” and not “someday we will be with Christ”? Does not Christ say blessed is the pure in heart for they shall see heaven? What does ‘pure’ in heart mean? It seems easy for me to interpret from what you write that it must be some sort of complete disregard of this life which will be left behind like a baby leaves behind the womb. But the reality is that all of us who strive to live liturgical lives bring everything into the Liturgy.

    The hesychastic understanding of the spiritual life, which has always been upheld in the Church, most concisely articulated by St Gregory Palamas, is not a repression or dissolution of man and his passions but of their transformation. My understanding is that hesychasm is indeed a fortaste of the restoration of the created order and not its rejection and dissolution. It is a reorientation of the world back to the source of Life who is Christ.

    If the Incarnation did not occur and if God did not become man in the Person of Jesus Christ, then the material creation remains without hope for its ultimate renewal and regeneration in Christ. Through the Incarnation, the human body and the matter of this world now become “the Way” into the deifying vision of God.

    Therefore it is imperative to rid the mind of an “either/or” mentality towards the world. Creation is not bad it was and is good and the Holy Spirit is present within it, ordering and vivifying it. The Church affirms the world as indispensable. She therefore works not to eliminate it but to purify it, to reorient it, and to offer it back to God.

    This we do in our liturgical lives.

    BTW much of what I wrote above is plagiarizing Archimandrite Sergius (Bowyer) of St Tikhon’s Monastery.

    If anyone is interested I would encourage you to read “Acquiring the Mind of Christ” specifically the chapter “Beauty that Saves the World: Beauty, Liturgy, and Liturgical Art.

  76. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Actually the pure in heart shall see God. Even better!

  77. Byron Avatar

    Therefore it is imperative to rid the mind of an “either/or” mentality towards the world.

    Dee, I think you and Dino are in “violent agreement”. I believe he is indeed talking about the “restoration of the created order”, although his language is of “Heaven-wards and God-wards orientation”. Both of you are speaking of the fullness of God abiding in His creation. At least that is what it seems to be to me.

  78. Byron Avatar

    Also, thanks for the book recommendation!

  79. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Dee…plagiarizing or not…thanks so much for your elaboration! Very edifying and true, as I understand our purpose here on earth…the earth that has already been transformed because the Kingdom has come. Yes…this is what we celebrate in the Liturgy…indeed, ‘Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…”. Yes, the blessing of the waters, Baptism, the oil of Chrismation, the blessing of ordination, marriages, our houses, all the ‘utensils’ and vestments, incense…even our own bodies, sanctified in the Lord Jesus Christ! Very uplifting words you offer, Dee!
    As for the current discussion on the tensions created by worldly matters, these to me are distractions and can easily blind us to the reality of the Kingdom already among us. Yes, we will see it in its fullness in the age to come, but still, now, it has come. Are we not called to live our lives not ‘as if’ it has come, but in agreement, saying yes it indeed has?!

    And I am glad you said this:
    “The hesychastic understanding of the spiritual life, which has always been upheld in the Church, most concisely articulated by St Gregory Palamas, is not a repression or dissolution of man and his passions but of their transformation.”
    We can see this in the behavior of Christ. He was not passionless.

    Thanks again Dee. I must check out that book…
    Also, I am inclined to want to agree with Byron, that you and Dino are in agreement (“violent agreement”…I smile at that, Byron!) but just stating things differently. That happens a lot when we try to express in our own personal “ways”, if you will. But you know best if that is true in this case….

  80. Andrew Avatar

    I’m a bit late to this thread, but would be extremely interested in hear more on this (or links to posts where you’ve discussed it more in depth):

    “Most Christians live with a divided mind. We think of practicing Christ’s commandments on a personal, private level, but do not want the State to do so. There are any number of folks who argue that this is how it should be. When that choice is made, I suspect that our hearts will differ little from that of any other citizen. Modernity strongly suggests that we keep our religion to ourself and let the State obey some other plan of action.”

    This is something I’ve wrestled with for some time. How, and to what degree, should we be engaged in politics (not talking heads on TV, but the governance of a state or country)? Most Orthodox Christians would advocate for the elimination of abortion in our countries. We vote for this, we march for this and often engage in the public sphere on this matter. We don’t, however, do that with other things like homosexuality, divorce, gluttony or a number of other things that touch on the commandments of Christ. Should we be? And if not, what’s the line between what is and is not appropriate to advocate for on the state level?

  81. Dino Avatar

    As Byron said I think we agree.
    I would affirm everything you say re the in breaking of the Kingdom.
    The saints who explicitly speak of their longing to die and be immutable with Christ – to be born into the life where there is no more decay and mutability, are the ones you mention like Palamas and Silouan. St Paul’s and the apostles’ didache, quotes earlier, regarding the yearnings of the soul to depart and be forever with its Bridegroom in the fulness that Christ as Man only had after the ascension are actually expressions of those who truly experience God here and now.
    Therefore the greater the degree of genuine ‘one storey’ participation in the Kingdom one has, the greater the yearning. The greater the sanctification of the body and the living out that this [decaying] body of mine is a [currently decaying] member of Christ’s Body, the greater the desire to be planted in the earth and take part in the ultimate participation in the Resurrected One. Discrediting that divine yearning can only be done when we philosophically conceptualise ‘one storey-ness’ and never when we truly experience it.

  82. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    I’d like to read the reference and context of St Silouan’s words directly. I have the book St Silouan the Athonite..

  83. Dino Avatar

    I haven’t got the book on hand to provide references now, but having read it (in Greek) well over ten times I can remember many things off the top of my head:

    First off, Elder Sophrony is very explicit in the chapter describing ‘the end of Elder Silouan’ towards the end of the ‘first part’.
    He says that the oscillations/changes of the life of any saint makes him realize that ‘all men are liars’(psalm 116:11) because, while still on this earth, he does not remain immutably “in God”. He has the experience that while still on earth his love ‘fluctuates’ and never remains at the same level of intensity or constancy. So he gradually acquires the strong desire to overcome this “lie” and stretch out to the final ‘fullness’ which is only ever achieved with death.

    St Silouan’s words (in the second part) are also resplendent with that theme, even if not always as explicit…
    I especially retain the end of the book where he keeps saying things like (in my own memory of his words): Cleave not to the earth, for God is our Father and He alone loves us as beloved children. The soul that loves the Lord is saddened by anything that obstructs it from keeping her mind in God so that if this is how she feels here, how much more will she rejoice there!
    The soul from love of the Lord is as if she has gone crazy, sits still in silence and does not even want to talk because looking upon this world she does not desire it and does not see it and rushes to meet her Lord, desires only that encounter in its fullness [something to that effect]

    Also, things like the soul is “Weary while still on this earth”, or when he wishes that “for love of Him we might forget the earth, and live in heaven and behold the glory of the Lord.”
    or “On earth the soul has only to touch upon the love of God for the sweetness of the Holy Spirit to transport it in wonder to her Heavenly Father.”
    Or even (somewhat indirectly) the famous one that comes up online, that God has “wounded my soul with Thy love, and she thirsts for Thee, and wearies without end, and day and night, insatiable, reaches towards Thee, and has no wish to look upon this world, though I love the earth, but above all I love Thee, my Creator, and my soul longs for Thee.”

  84. Dino Avatar

    There is nothing new in the “desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better” (Philippians 1:23) and I do not think there is even a need to argue such a thing when we are a Church of martyrs that pray for their speedy, joyous death, as in St Ignatius’ letter to Romans: “that I may have power within and without, so that I may not only say it but also desire it; that I may not only be called a Christian, but also be found one. For if I shall be found so, then can I also be called one, and be faithful then, when I am no more visible to the world. Nothing visible is good. Let me be given to the wild beasts, for through them I can attain unto God. I am God’s wheat, and I am ground by the teeth of wild beasts that I may be found pure bread [of Christ]. Then shall I be truly a disciple of Jesus Christ, when the world shall not so much as see my body. Come fire and cross and grapplings with wild beasts, [cuttings and manglings,] wrenching of bones, hacking of limbs, crushings of my whole body, come cruel tortures of the devil to assail me. Only be it mine to attain unto Jesus Christ. The farthest bounds of the universe shall profit me nothing, neither the kingdoms of this world. It is good for me to die for Jesus Christ rather than to reign over the farthest bounds of the earth. Him I seek, who died on our behalf; Him I desire, who rose again [for our sake]. The pangs of a new birth are upon me. Bestow not on the world one who desireth to be God’s, neither allure him with material things. Suffer me to receive the pure light. When I am come thither, then shall I be a man. Permit me to be an imitator of the passion of my God. If any man hath Him within himself, let him understand what I desire, and let him have fellow- feeling with me, for he knoweth the things which straiten me.. I write to you in the midst of life, yet lusting after death. My [heavenly] lust hath been crucified, and there is no fire of material longing in me, but only water, living and speaking in me, saying within me, Come to the Father. I have no delight in the food of corruption or
    in the delights of this life.
    I desire no longer to live after the manner of men.”

  85. Dino Avatar

    Perhaps it’s worth notion that the *Ilook” at the ending of the Nicean Creed “I look for the resurrection of the dead; and the life of the world to come.” literally means in Greek something closer to ” I fervently await”.

  86. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Dino, no doubt and yet there are also examples of saints begging God not to take them because they had not repented enough. . Isn’t it true that a saint’s work of repentence is not for himself alone? The key word in the passage from the Creed is “wait”
    Even in my sinfulness I can long for completion and surcease of sorrow to be with my bridegroom and do but at the same time I am reminded–not yet. Hamlet has it right: If it be now, ’tis not to come, if it is not to come, it will be now, if it be not now, yet it will come, the readiness is all.

    We are a bit like children waiting to be picked up and taken on a fabulous excursion, but are we ready?

    There was a friend of mine who had severe cardiovascular problems. At one point his doctors told him the maximum he had was five years. He reposed at the end of that time, but continued to live, serve, love and repent while he waited. As far as I know, he is not a saint, yet he waited in hope with his wife amidst many struggles and when his time was up he fulfilled the liturgical prayer that our death may be painless, blameless with a good defence before the dread judgement seat of God.

  87. Dino Avatar

    That point is one I have raised time and again with the most discerning Elders because, as you say, we have examples of saints begging for more time… (I certainly took a while before fully verifying & clarifying this stuff too)
    It is extremely involved to try and write all such answers on this in a clear and ordered fashion here I am afraid…
    The key point stands though. The greater the participation in the Kingdom here and now, the greater the desire to depart to the fullness.
    (not in an escapist or dulist way as might be misconstrued by our conventional experience)

  88. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    “It is extremely involved to try and write all such answers on this in a clear and ordered fashion here I am afraid…
    The key point stands though. The greater the participation in the Kingdom here and now, the greater the desire to depart to the fullness.”

    True and true!
    We try to express the things we know in our heart, but sometimes it is hard even to express them in any situation, whether it be on a blog, or face to face, or even in prayer. Because someone else may express these truths differently does not necessarily mean that you are missing something. You may or may not. But we can certainly learn in the words that others use as a help to a better, a fuller, understanding. Our heart will reveal if there is something amiss, as well. Things have to ‘jive’ with the Church’s teachings. And it also helps to understand that which is dogmatic and that which is not. and with that, to consider the path to virtue.
    Regarding face to face, I think God puts people in our path who are similar to us, where we are able to confidently express ourselves in our own way that they will understand. I have Dee in mind here as an example, and the people she witnesses to in her teachings. They are from the same culture (I assume…).

  89. Dean Avatar

    Very helpful, Dino. And your comments also, Michael. Good to know brothers in Christ such as you.
    Dino. How might the life you describe above be fleshed out for, say a married man with children and obligations in this world? I know how much I was harried and stressed by all these (especially work) and family concerns. Your words could really profit a young father or mother, I’m sure.

  90. Dean Avatar

    Thank you for your probing questions that started this latter conversation and comments!

  91. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Dino, the difficulty lies for me in the fact that I am a sinner who definitely needs more time to repent and God keeps graciously giving me more. I need the prayers of the saints and elders I’m the body or out of the body.

    I trust God’s mercy and providence enough that such analysis is moot to me. I can empathize with the desire of one such as St. Silouan more easily than I can with the saints who beg for more time, but is not a place I am likely to be in either case. So I pray for mercy.

  92. Dino Avatar

    A “married man with children and obligations in this world, stressed by all these (especially work) and family concerns” has a characteristic difficulty in that many of these ‘distractions’ of life are considered ‘blessed’ distractions – through which he must endeavour to live the commandments of Christ – and yet they remain just that: distractions (especially when considering the purer forms of a contemplative life).
    Contact with perfection fleshed out in the life of worldly cares is almost impossible to describe without accepting the fact of compromise – even though it is a ‘blessed’ one.
    Martha struggles to not be “worried and upset,” although serving is blessed, while Maria, at the feet of the Lord is not. That story is very significant.
    No matter what the path, however, it is a lifelong struggle to “set the LORD always before me: to know he is at my right hand, and to not be moved.” (Psalm 16:8)

    Two things I think can be helpful:
    (1) a rule of prayer/stillness/reading that is secret and consistent (even if it’s tiny), as this will mystically refashion all other times of prayer (while commuting etc) and provide the spark to rekindle the God-abiding reaction to the stresses of such a life. [for instance: even a moment of weakness, like a panic attack at work, would be completely differently ‘assimilated’ into a life that has such a rule than into one that doesn’t]

    (2) a wise simplification of one’s life as far as is feasible – to a comfort level of stress that is sustainable and transformable into thanksgiving.

  93. Dean Avatar

    Thank you Dino. Indeed, these words will help me (retired) who has the time for prayer, with no job to stress me. But I know that many younger folks read these comments who now struggle with what I struggled with. Your point that a set time of prayer brings us back to remembrance of God (like a compass pointing north) during the day
    and that it refashions other times of prayer are good notes. A simple, minimalist lifestyle can also help keep our heart’s orientation God-ward as it offers less distractions. Lord have mercy on us all!

  94. Christopher Avatar


    Thanks for your clarifications and engagement. I believe I am following your thought better now. The point you are making around “debt” and its relationship to justice is new to me I believe. I have assumed that debt is not contra justice, but rather a result sin and the “power” of sin and that which gives sin its power, the Law (which itself is nothing less than the Love of God). If we don’t “naturally” (either in nature or due to our weakness in sin – putting aside the theology of the genesis of our present ontology for now) have the “power” to release and fully “pay back” our debt, then this power is gifted to us via what we call the Atonement (a word I note you have not used – intentionally I assume given the context of your ministry/emphasis).

    By focusing on the Jubilee, you are emphasizing not a fulfillment (i.e. a “pay back”) of debt-due-to-its-just-origin – however mysteriously and seemingly “canceled” in character from a limited creatureally point of view, rather you are emphasizing an actual cancellation. A simple and straightforward cutting of the bindings, whatever their origin (justice or truth, sin and delusion- even the seemingly arbitrariness and indifference of this material existence/cosmos – does not matter).

    In this metaphor, debt is seen as having no relationship to Justice. There is no debt that is incurred either from behavior, nature or present-ontology, or (apparently) even from our creaturely existence – our contingency as ex-nihilo creations and not only that but that we are created “in the image” of the Logos such that there is an order, rationality, and telos to our creation. In other words you might say that as a consequence of this metaphor of debt is that there is no “debt” of Love, and love is never properly described or experienced as a “binding”.

    A problem of course is that St. Paul uses just such a word and imagery, perhaps culminating in Rom 8:12-16 where he explicitly says we a debtors in the Spirit of Christ, and we that receive this “debt” and “slavery” not “again” or “leading back to” *fear*, but in the spirit of “adoption”.

    This is all perhaps to push the metaphor/iconic language too far towards a precision and lack of mystery that it simply cannot have. I originally wanted to flush out what you meant when you said that forgiveness cannot “work by” Justice. I found that remarkable, and thought to myself “how else could forgiveness, or any other good from God, ‘work’, for surely the attributes of God are not somehow divided and “working” against themselves, or the ‘work’ of one is shut down or made absent by the ‘work’ of another…”

    The parable of the Samaritan is I believe is an example of this particular image of debt that you have. The Samaritan unbinds the man from his wounds, seemingly randomly (he just comes along on the road after him) and with no seemingly relationship to a wider context of the what and how of circumstances, who sin is the cause and effect of this or that, and who’s debt is to be paid by whom and when – excepting of course that debt which is paid forward by the Samaritan himself. That said, as St. Paul does, it can be said that the debt of the Samaritan to God and his brother is that which binds and enslaves him to his brother – a debt of Love. Still, the wider context of justice and debt appears to be forgiveness.

    Yet, in other parables (i.e. unforgiving servant, etc.) the wider context of forgiveness appears to be Justice- it is Justice which “contains” forgiveness as it were and when forgiveness is sinfully violated, it is Justice that steps forward as it were. So an apparent relational problem exists between justice, debt, and forgiveness and this problem I think can be described as one of primacy/hierarchy: In the Kingdom, which of these three attributes (of God and the good) “contextualizes” the other two? OR, are they all “co-equal”, such that all three are attributes of the same goodness and activity of God? OR, is there some ‘transcend third option’ 😉

    To answer these questions, I agree with you that as Christians we look to Christ. What was/is the “context” of His incarnation, what is the nature of His ministry, and what is “accomplished” by His Sacrifice? Some friends and I have started to slowly read and discuss St. Athanasius “On the Incarnation” and after the first chapter (we are only at the beginning of the second chapter), his answer appears to be “co-equal” in that the Atonement is that which contextualizes the three. This too is your point, that the Jubilee is an image of the Atonement, the Kingdom…

    Sorry for the long post – your essay and these comments (everyone’s including yours Dino and those who desire to see the shadow of justice in this world, even on a political level) has moved me 🙂

  95. Dean Avatar

    Christopher Harmon,
    Type in the blog search, Old Testament. I saw an article, “The Christian Reading of the OT” by Father, Dec.21. 2013. About 360+ citations on OT.

  96. Byron Avatar

    There is no debt that is incurred either from behavior, nature or present-ontology, or (apparently) even from our creaturely existence – our contingency as ex-nihilo creations and not only that but that we are created “in the image” of the Logos such that there is an order, rationality, and telos to our creation. In other words you might say that as a consequence of this metaphor of debt is that there is no “debt” of Love, and love is never properly described or experienced as a “binding”.

    Christopher, I found this statement interesting. I see our creation “in the image” of the Logos not as one of “order, rationality, and telos” but as communion and love that brings/creates life. In the same manner the Trinitarian communion created our very existence (in love), the return of woman to man in marriage (the return of the fullness of humanity), with the breath of Life which God gives, creates life. It occurs to me that the Hierarchy may be one of communion, not (only or mainly) one of power and authority. As such, it makes sense that our salvation is found in the (communion that comes from) Jubilee and God’s judgement is revealed in His Mercy. Perhaps “justice” and “debt” are more symptoms of our current existence/situation. Just thinking out loud; this is really far above my pay grade. May God bless.

  97. Ivan Avatar


    I am not sure exactly how you interpreted my earlier comments to think I said something to the effect that “Time and our paradoxical… life in it is not justified,” but I think you are right that as usual, we disagree on some of this matter. But ironically(and I find this amusing, and hope you might enjoy how funny it is that we disagree about how we disagree, yet we probably continue to also agree on other more important things), I do not believe life is so paradoxical – rather, I believe our righteousness is justified, while our sin is not, which is usually easy to distinguish. About our whole life’s justification, that is God’s business, so I try to not speculate about it.

    The paradox is probably more that we know we are sinners but struggle to repent, not that we can only hope in God’s mercy, but do not know if we will be saved or not. I think the context of this paradox is that Christianity has forgotten something Fr. Stephen teaches consistently, including in his book – contrition requires weeping, tears, true grief and sorrow. Without that transformative act, a Christian will only have a vague sense of his/her sins, not a strong confession before God and the whole community represented by the father confessor. It is important that the priest represents everyone, not just Christ. Once during confession, when a man told St. John (Maximovitch) that he knew he had sinned greatly, but did not feel contrition, St. John told him to look at the other parishioners in the temple with them. Then this man began to feel contrite – it is a social blessing.

    As for not knowing if we are saved, I don’t think that is a big deal. God wants us to have room for doubt of Him and our future with Him, or else our faith would be automatic. If we could know we were saved, we would not really have free will. So we struggle to believe, and faith is deepened by letting go of sins, both our own and those of others – sin is the main obstacle to faith. So different people can focus more on forgiveness of other or themselves at different points in time, but salvation always majorly involves participation in God’s forgiveness of humanity. Confession is technically also called Reconciliation – so we must be reconciled to both our loved ones and our enemies in order to be ready for Communion. I think we as Orthodox people need to study the mysteries/sacraments mystically to find answers to mysterious questions. I haven’t done that enough yet to have such answers, but I think it’s fertile theological and intellectual ground.

    To clarify, I do not mean to imply anything about you with this comment, Christopher – I mean to address only the paradox of moral struggle. However, maybe I do not understand what you mean about the paradox of Time.

  98. Ann K. Avatar
    Ann K.

    Father, your thoughts on the eschaton at the 65% point of your book helped me understand the true nature of forgiveness and evil and might enlighten others:

    “Learning to live in a one-storey universe means also learning to live in a world in which we ourselves are not the prisoners of time. The One who is to come is also the Lord who is present to us now, and the same Lord who was before the beginning and who was slain for our salvation. In Him, the Church becomes a community that has a present time, but is also the community of the eschaton. This is the great witness of the Orthodox Church of the East. Its self-understanding is that it is “heaven on earth,” the community of the faithful, gathered at the end of the age with the Lord who is to come. In its liturgy, it even speaks of the Second Coming in the past tense, not because it believes that event to have “already” happened, but because it understands that when it gathers together as Church, it stands at the end of all things.l

  99. Chris Avatar

    Father, thank you for yet another remarkable, and very useful, post.

    I have in the past wondered about that reference in John 20:23 about retaining sins (which seems to be a priestly thing?), and I had always wondered what that might really mean. Your sustained reflection on ‘binding and loosening’ really helps.

    It still somewhat begs the question about just why a priest might want to ‘retain’ someone’s sins. Is it because there are some circumstances where the binding that is happening is playing some other role and that timing comes into it?

    Metaphors of binding have been proliferating a bit I’m afraid. I have also been thinking that one of the problems with forgivenss in practice is that particularly strong or complex knotted bonds is that they are indeed very hard to unloose. As is forgiveness sometimes in practice. Surely it sometimes needs very ‘skilled hands’, an understanding of knots, and time and patience to do unbinding well, Surely that problem must get much worse as the ropes and bands that are wrapping us up and to each other (images of tendrils of bands running between people arise) must be even more complex some times. And the methods for unbinding also create their own interesting metaphors : if we want to loosen a bond do we try to gradually untie things, or cut through? Then another image – of the heat and light of Christ’s Pascha just melting them all – came up. Behind all of that was the idea that you referred to about “what you bind on earth, you bind *in heaven*” – which carries a resonance that these ropes and bands and bonds might indeed be visible pretty much in that form to one with the right kind of spiritual insight? Which would be a remarkable and somewhat scary superpower to possess (I wonder why Hollywood hasn’t picked up on that idea yet in the endless cycle of tv series on such things?! :-)) Indeed Jesus with the paralytic in Mark’s gospel seems to be doing just that.

    One reason for mentioning all of that is that I can’t help but think that timing and context (and as others have said discernment) is important with all of this unbinding business. Sometimes, surely, it is just not the right time – yet – to try a complete unbinding and forgiveness thing, even if that is what we are aiming to do. Not because it isn’t a good idea, but just because it won’t work.

    I have a friend who went through a particularly bad time over a year ago at work with some very bad bullying which was not handled well by the organisation that she was working for. She is just not emotionally ready to forgive yet. But I think she will be in time. Given the nature of her wound and the time needed to heal and then integrate, I reckon about three years would be about right, but with work inbetween building towards this – anniversaries being a good time to move things along.To me that feels like the right way to help her loosen, and let go. BTW I agree with Deborah Hansen that if nothing else your post has given me some very valuable imagery to further this process along with her (although I am not a spiritual guide or anything).

    Another of my favourite OT stories (and one I seem to have a lot of recourse to with friends going through sustained bad batches) is the perfect Jacob and the dark stranger (aka the angel) story from Gen 32:22-31. Often horrible situations just seem to appear out of nowhere – as happened to Jacob – and attack us for what seems like a very long night and we can find ourselves in what feels like a life and death struggle with something that is trying to drag us down and kill us. And often during the course of the night-long struggle we do get injuries from which leave a lasting wound. The key to that story was that when the dark stranger went to leave as dawn was breaking Jacob didn’t let him go. He actually held of to the thing that was causing him grief, and would not let it go *until it gave him a blessing*. Isn’t that part of this timing of when and how to release the bonds that tie us – actually getting the horrible situation to give us a blessing. And in Jacob’s case, his blessing was a new name (Israel) which of course means a transformation. Which suggests to me that part of the forgiveness piece done well is not just an unbinding, but an unbinding in a way that creates something better. Otherwise the time of suffering was just suffering. I’d be interested in your thoughts on that.

    The other thing that occurred to me as I’ve been pondering this stuff was my old friend Luke 6:37-38 which I’ve mentioned a couple of times, as I’m wondering what you think about whether this suggests another context not only for your images, but also for thinking about those situations that various commentors have been raising about when and how to forgive in a way that works in the real world (and avoid naivety, defend one’s family, wars and so on).

    To quote our Lord’s (carefully crafted) passage as recorded in Luke in full again : ‘Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.’ This seems to position forgiveness as a pivotal activity among a number of other activities: two ‘do nots’ (judging, condemning) then over the hill to two positives: forgiving and then on to giving (generosity). And the context for all of them all is not so much that they are commandments of absolute forbiddenness, but rather that what we do – and the way we do it – will come back to us (‘the measure you give will be the measure you get back’). We had better be very careful about the way we judge, or indulging our urge to condemn because those things will come back. Maybe another way of pictorially thinking about that draws on the ideas in your post Father is that even when we judge and condemn we are also creating bonds that bind us. So one way I am picturing this is if the psychopathic killer is indeed attacking a child, then of course I will need to find a way to intervene to protect the child. But it is in my interests to try and avoid judging or condemning the attacker because my own actions in judging and condemning will come back to me. But if I can find a way to forgive, and then learn how to give, then that too will come back – in full measure.

    Another thing I like about the positioning of this dense epigrammitic passage in Luke is that pretty much the next thing that happens after the sermon on the Plain is the Transfiguration. The Transfiguration is one of those times when we are being shown that our understanding of ‘life’ has very little to do with true reality and uncreated light. Sort of puts the 6:37-38 statements in another context altogther : think about trading in your petty little earthly judgement sticks for bigger and better ones … ? Maybe forgiveness and judgement (and judgementalism) really are closely related at a deep level? Might this be a way of thinking through the links between “justice” on the one hand and “forgiveness” on the other? And then there is Pascha!

    Anyway, as you can probably tell from the length of this, Father, you have hit yet another major nerve with me with this post. I apologise for anything wrong or misguided or dangerous in any of the thoughts expressed – feel free to correct. I am aware that I have a tendency to get somewhat carried away (!) 🙂 with interesting metaphors. It will come as no surprise that I have drawn incorrect connections or have come from wrong assumptions.

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  1. Greetings, Father Stephen, Thank you so much for this reflection and all of the tremendous amount of work you have…

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