Orthodox Daily Devotional for November 18-24
The decision to forgive another person a wrong done to us begins when we decide to let go of resentment and thoughts of revenge. To forgive someone does not mean that we forget what they did to us, for this may be impossible. The memory of the hurt might always remain with you, but when you decide to forgive the person who wronged you, the grip of resentment is put aside. When we forgive someone it is even possible the find yourself filled with compassion and empathy for the person, for the act of forgiveness opens the heart to God’s grace.
When we forgive someone, we are not denying their responsibility for hurting or offending us, nor are we justifying their act. We can forgive them without approving or excusing their transgression against us. The act of forgiving another opens our heart to the peace that brings closure to hurt and pain, and opens us up to the love and peace that comes from living a life without resentment.
If we find ourselves struggling to forgive, it is a good reminder to recall those hurtful things we’ve done to others, and remember when we’ve been forgiven. It is especially good to recall how God has forgiven us, and call upon Him to give us the grace needed to put aside our resentment, and truly forgive the other person. Being quick to forgive, and putting aside all thoughts of revenge will open our heart to a joyful and peaceful life.
Finally, if we pray for those who’ve offended us, we open the door to all kinds of possibilities. When we ask God to help the person whose been unkind and hurtful, our own hearts receive healing, for when we’ve forgiven others, grace abounds.
It is often the case that we fail to keep God’s commandments and find ourselves despondent, unable, as it seems, to make progress in the battle over our sins. When the same sins constantly plague us, despondency is our enemy. Despondency is the tool demons use to distract us from the goal, making us feel we will never attain holiness. The demons want us to give up the battle, and despondency is their chief ally.
Holiness requires struggle, and the despondent man is unable to see the possibility of victory, so he surrenders to despair. The first step towards victory is simple. We just get up again. If you fall a second time, get up a second time. However many times we have to get up again, we do so with keeping our gaze on Christ, through Whom we are given the grace to conquer those repetitive sins that plague us.
Saint Barsanuphius of Optina said, “By keeping our eyes on Jesus Christ, we are empowered to move towards holiness of life, for the good that rises up in our heart, comes from Christ. As we struggle for transformation of heart, even if we fall a dozen times, progress is made, and each step we take brings us closer to the Kingdom of God”.
“We have all sinned and fall short of the Glory of God (Romans 3:23).” We Orthodox often miss the mark in understanding and ministering to this world. We fail the words of Christ, “to love one another as God has loved us”, and forget we are charged by Our Lord to bring healing and wholeness to those struggling in this fallen world. In our righteous indignation we show contempt to those who live apart from biblical morality, forgetting that we were ourselves called out of this fallen world by Christ. We forget, in our contempt for the sins of others, that it was this very Christ Who asked those in the crowd who were without sin to cast the first stone.
All of us have failed to fulfill the Commandments of God, and we are all deserving of being squashed like worms. But Jeremiah says, “Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassion’s fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your FAITHFULNESS” (Lam 3:22,23).
God never washes His hands of us. We may disappoint Him every day, but His love is without measure, and He responds with His saving Grace and Mercy. The Church, as the hospital of the soul, is the very institution founded by Our Lord to bring wholeness and healing to everyone. It is the lie of Satan that some are deserving of nothing but our contempt and violence. But it is Christ Who has called us to compassion for those who are stuck in sin, and Who offers, through the Church, the saving, transformational healing that can turn hearts around, and turn sinners into saints.
“Rituals”, are not important to Orthodox, for rituals are simply external forms of religion. What is important is that we follow the grace filled services and practices preserved from the time of the Ancient Church. We do not need to reinvent worship every few years, in a sad attempt to remain relevant to the culture around us. Rather, we attempt to resist the fallen culture around us, while infusing modern culture, devoid of Christian values and beliefs, with a culture infused with Orthodoxy.
We don’t try to understand a particular scripture passage outside the Mind of the Church, for we know that the Church always decided teachings, worship practices, and the Canon of Scripture, itself, according to what was always taught, everywhere, and at all times. We believe Christ’s promise that the Gates of Hell will not prevail against the Church, and that the Church is protected, as long as she sticks with her conciliar nature, which has guided her for over two thousand years.
The Orthodox Church one hundred years from now, provided the Lord has not returned before then, will be the same as she is today, in worship, doctrine, and faith. It doesn’t, in the end, mean a thing about what I think, or how I might interpret a passage in the Bible. What matters is that I cultivate the Mind of the Church within myself.
Everything in this life is transitory and can disappear in a moment of time. Even our own life can end abruptly and without warning. Yet as Christians we keep moving forward, embracing whatever God has placed before us. Worrying about the future keeps us from focusing on the horizon and trusting that God is there with us every step of the way.
This life has been given to us as a time of preparation for the eternal life that is our inheritance as God’s children. The transitory nature of this world will end when God’s kingdom is ushered in and we all stand before the Great Judgment Throne of God. Loss, pain and suffering in this world will have not been in vain if we embrace everything as an occasion for transformation of self. To stand in the presence of God for eternity requires that we be deified, and all of life’s suffering is meant to help prepare us for an eternity of communion with the Holy Trinity.
God does not send us suffering and sorrow, our collective sin brings it on. God sends things that heal us. We are powerless against a world that is dark, and full of hatred, ugliness, and death, but we must refuse to give ourselves over to that darkness. We must pray, immerse our selves in the Liturgy, and continue to live for God. We live in witness to the eternal truth, that Jesus Christ is alive, and reigns in our hearts. We have reason to be joyful, even when faced with suffering. We are comforted in our suffering, knowing that our Lord wept when hearing that Lazarus had died, and that He gives us the ability to be joyful, even as we weep with those who weep.
God allows for us to suffer under heavy crosses, during different times in our lives, but He does not leave us to suffer alone, for He is our Co-suffering Saviour, and lifts us up, if we let Him.