Father Stephen Freeman
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. (read all his article here)
I’d think that repentance was utterly central to the ministry of Christ. Both as presupposing Faith and as a presupposition to be forgiven. The sin against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven!
your name suggests you know the Silmarillion well enough. Feanor was forgiven by his brother for raising his sword against him, long before he actually repented of the deed; while he was, in fact, still very indignantly convinced of his own right. The forgiveness was in that tale obviously already there, ten years before any sort of repentance (and never quite clear whether or not he ever really did repent of it).
I’ve never quite understood what exactly this ‘sin against the Holy Spirit is’. It confuses me. I’ve heard all sorts of explanations, especially in the ‘hardened heart’ and ‘inability to love God’ category, but feelings are often incomprehensible to me. Perhaps, Fr Stephen, if you have a moment, you could say a word or two about it?
Monica, so what?
I hope you will not suggest a Gospel according to Tolkien now….
Anyway, I know the Silmarillion well enough to know that Feanor was not saved, as much as his son, remembered in my nickname, was not saved. Yet, Maedhros was a noble character under many aspects, surely he understood the madness and the unrighteousness of the path where he was forced by his father’s oath; nevertheless, he did follow that path until the end, his destruction. The Valar did offer him salvation (forgiveness) at the end, he choose his pride, unable to repent, like an addicted who will not renounce that last shot that he knows very well will kill him.
That is the sin against the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, the Spirit of God Who operates through His Word. It’s the refusal and the rejection of the Truth, when He is in front of you and you recognize Him (and what He requires of you). The Pharisees saw the power of God operating through Christ, but they pretended to be saved on their own terms (which excluded repentance, of course). But no salvation is possible without repentance, without that metanoia (a change of life, to follow Him as much as you can, what you lack He will provide at the end, but your efforts must be strenuous, sincere, even if they do not require “progress” but growth). His burden is light and His yoke is easy, indeed, but a yoke and a burden they are!
Repentance is the central theme of Christ ministry. “Repent” was the beginning of His public preaching, as was the beginning of the preaching of His Holy Precursor and Baptist John. More than forgiveness, as it is a presupposition for forgiveness and a consequence of Faith. There’s not one case of healing/forgiveness/salvation in the Gospels without that presupposition and consequence.
You cannot return to God without repentance, on your own terms you will be stuck where you are, bound by the whispers of the serpent….
What you describe is the acceptance of forgiveness and the resulting life-changes. That doesn’t mean the forgiveness is not already there, on offer, for the taking. Indeed, if it weren’t, there would be nothing to accept in the first place.
Surely the world isn’t divided into Gospel and worthless books? Haven’t stories and story-telling always been used to make a point? Tolkien need not be Gospel to make valid points. (or that would be taking sola scripture way too far).
Monica, what I have said I have said. I have NOT said that forgiveness is not there to be accepted and I have NOT said that Tolkien wrote worthless books (even if the world is divided in Gospels and books for sure).
I also wonder (with Monica) if not more could be said on the relationship between repentance and forgiveness. For when Maedhros says:
” There’s not one case of healing/forgiveness/salvation in the Gospels without that presupposition and consequence.”
I immediately think of today’s veneration of the precious and life giving Cross. In what way did the people “repent” when our Lord asks the Father to forgive them for what they do not know? Clearly, Maedhros is overstating something here.
On the other hand, how often have we heard the demand for forgiveness from someone while they do not appear to be repenting? They seem to hide behind forgiveness, almost as a shield – not to overtly justify their sins but it has the same effect. This is particularly painful (for me anyways) when those in Church leadership do this. Seems like their needs to be some link/relationship between the two or otherwise is hollows each out – “cheap grace” comes to mind…
Father Stephen Freeman
I will perhaps write more on this. But, in a nutshell, the conversation keeps drifting back to a forensic (legal) understanding of sin and repentance. It all clears up as soon as we learn to quit doing that.
I just read this in Elder Porphyrios’ book, Wounded by Love:
Our religion is perfectly and profoundly conceived. What is simple is also what is most precious. Accordingly, in your spiritual life engage in your daily contest simply, easily and without force. The soul is sanctified and purified through the study of the words of the Fathers, through the memorization of the psalms and portions of Scripture, through the singing of hymns and through the repetition of the Jesus Prayer.
Devote your efforts, therefore, to these spiritual things and ignore all the other things. We can attain to the worship of God easily and bloodlessly. There are two paths that lead to God: the hard and debilitating path with fierce assaults against evil and the easy path with love. There are many who chose the hard path and “shed blood in order to receive Spirit” [Abba Longinos] until they attained great virtue. I find the shorter and safer route is the path with love. This is the path you, too, should follow.
That is, you can make a different kind of effort: to study and pray and have as your aim to advance in the love of God and of the Church. Do not fight to expel the darkness from the chamber of your soul. Open a tiny aperture for light to enter, and the darkness will disappear. The same holds for our passions and our weaknesses. Do not fight them, but transform them into strengths by showing disdain for evil [i.e., by ignoring it]. Occupy your self with hymns of praise, with the poetic canons, with the worship of God and divine eros. All the holy books of our Church . . .
By reading these books you will gradually acquire meekness, humility and love, and your soul will be made good. Do not choose negative methods to correct yourselves. There is no need to fear the devil, hell or anything else. These things provoke a negative reaction. I, myself, have some little experience in these matters. The object is not to sit and afflict and constrict yourself in order to improve. The object is to live, to study, to pray and to advance in love–in love for Christ and for the Church. . . .
. . . Your most intense effort should be how you will encounter Christ, how you will be united to Him and how you will keep Him in your heart. . . .
. . . In this way your release from evil and from your weaknesses will happen in a mystical manner, without your being aware of it and without exertion.
Father Stephen Freeman
Well, I hope nobody here thinks that is possible to access that sweet medicine of saint Porphyrios, to follow that path, without repentance.
Frankly, it’s hard for me to understand what I am overstating here. You can very well forgive an unrepentant, but this will (maybe) save you, not him. And it’s not required from a Christian to forgive him: you MUST forgive IF he repents. You CAN forgive him anyway, probably the highest Christian virtue, but that will not save him.
God will give the same salary to all workers of the vineyard, regardless of the hours spent there. Probably also to those who did not labor there at all, in the end, through the fire. I pray always for this: too many cheated by the deception which rules this world, mankind is trained by the devil since birth today, too many who “don’t know what they do”…..
But if you think that the salary will be given even to those who spent their life purposefully destroying the vineyard and abusing their neighbor, I think you are deeply mistaken.
There’s nothing forensic/legal here. Christ was not a lawyer, and repentance is His requirement, not mine, because it’s the only foundation for salvation, the central theme of His ministry; repentance, more than forgiveness!
Because without repentance you cannot forgive, nor you can be saved.
Can’t disagree with you there Maedhros. I took (probably mistakenly) you to be saying that to forgive, the person you are forgiving has to be repenting. I take Fr. Stephen to be saying (and our Lord) that this is not the case, and that this in fact does have a beneficial “effect” on even the non-repentant person, in ways that we simply do not understand. Both St. Porphyrios and Elder Thaddeous affirm the power of our inner activity or “thoughts” (and thus our forgiving) on others, event to the point of it being a part of their salvation.
Like I said before, there is a way (well, more than one way) to abuse this however – to speak of (or from those in authority demand) you focus on your repentance and forgiveness while they are in fact shielding themselves, or in even somewhat benevolently they are honestly working out their own repentance.
I will translate the meaning of your first sentence in your comment on St. Porphyrios’ “sweet medicine” using the full context of St. Porphyrios’ teaching here:
“Well, I hope nobody thinks that is possible to repent without repenting.”
Let me explain by asking what exactly about exerting one’s efforts in love toward Christ, etc. (rather than trying to attack and defeat one’s own sins) is notrepentance? What St. Porphyrios is describing here is exactly repentance, that is, a Gk. term transliterated as “metanoia”, meaning not sorrow for sins (that is another Gk. term), but rather a complete redirection/change of mind, character and purpose. Judas experienced sorrow and contrition for his sin (the other Gk term, transliterated “metamellomai”) and in this sense “repented himself” (Matthew 27:3) of betraying Jesus . . . and despaired and hung himself! He did not experience “metanoia”, so what good did his “repentance” do him? That is St. Porphyrios’ point. What he is describing in the passage I excerpted is the positive aspect of what we in English think of as “repentance” (the English term tends to incorporate the meaning of both Gk. terms, though the Gk. text makes a distinction between these), meaning an “about face” in our orientation from self to Christ. I believe he speaks of this as “safer” because relying on contrition for (one’s past) sin to effect one’s repentance (i.e., one’s reorientation from self to Christ) is not a given. It can just as easily lead to despair, while looking first and foremost to Christ and cultivating love for Him has no down side and will “easily” and naturally lead to sins losing its hold on us.
I agree we can’t benefit from Christ’s forgiveness apart from the kind of repentance St. Porphyrios describes, though I would second Christopher: the Orthodox understanding is the forgiveness of others can help set us free for repentance, while others harboring unforgiveness toward us makes it more difficult for us to repent.
Karen, Judas did not repent. He did just despair, a sin even more grievous than his betrayal, if possible! Saint Peter repented, yet his sin of apostasy (just when the Lord was being humiliated and crucified) was a terrible one.
I can agree with your last sentence, but the fact remains that their repentance is needed for salvation. I meant to point out just that: repentance is the cornerstone, on which everything else rest.
Father Stephen Freeman
I have a very simple question (and a very simple answer would be appreciated):
Will God forgive the unrepentant?
For He is kind to the unthankful and evil, indeed, but that will not help them to avoid the exclusive company of the “goats” in the end……
I think, God will (forgive the unrepentant) -He already has- but he, (the unrepentant) will not want any of it. The last thing in the world that an “unsavable” being is looking for is his forgiveness.
Father Stephen Freeman
As Dino said. The goats aren’t goats because God won’t forgive them. The goats are goats because they refuse to be sheep. The ideal example of the sheep and the goats are the two thieves. They are equally guilty. One accepts his guilt (I suppose there is a repentance in that) while the other rails at Jesus. The one of the left (the goats) could have had paradise like the thief on the right (the sheep). But he wouldn’t. He wouldn’t even listen to the preaching and urging at the last minute of his fellow thief. But that thief found paradise.
It’s not at all a question of God’s forgiveness. That goes without question. God has no need to not forgive anyone and everyone. Christ even extended mercy to the demons who wanted to go into the pigs (little good did it do them). The problem is whether we will accept the goodness of God. Paradise is never more than a single moment away – even now and in this life. But we refuse it.
It seems to me, forgive me, that you are fixated on being sure that the goats “get what’s coming to them” in the end. This can be a very disordered desire. Guard your heart and be careful. Begrudge paradise to no man.
 Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit shall not be forgiven unto men.
 And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this age, neither in the age to come.
Forgive me, father, but I think my heart is better guarded by not suggesting that the Word of God did just misuse words in the passage above (and a dozen others which I will not report here).
It’s rather amazing to learn that I begrudge Paradise to someone by simply pointing out that repentance is needed to access it. Was the Lord begrudging Paradise to someone in Luke 13, 1-5? Or in the countless links He made to unite salvation (forgiveness) to repentance? Countless…. from the very start of His preaching!
It’s not less bizarre all the timidity in considering how to deal with an abuser, a worker of iniquities, when the Lord says clearly that you must not hesitate to cut off your own eye or hand if they cause you scandal.
Yet, the most astonishing wonder is the tenacious abstention from every condemnation of the works of iniquity of an unrepentant compared to the prompt judgement dropped upon a miserable sinner who dares to point out the consequence of that impenitence, not according to him but to our Lord!
The next step, I suppose, is the Publican thanking God “because he is not like those other men”, then the landfall to the New Age Orthodoxy would be achieved. It’s a pity nobody warned the Desert Fathers that they were just wasting their time.
All this is pristine madness! No amount of human forgiveness has anything salvific in it. You need the Lord to be saved, and the Lord is accessible only through repentance. You must love the Lord and His statutes to be saved; the love pretending to justify fallen men apart from the Lord (i.e. from their repentance) leads to the pit, to the secular abyss where we are today. It’s satanic pride, bestowing salvation upon our miserable forgiveness! If you love them, urge them to repent!
Father Stephen Freeman
I’ve deleted your comment. It seems shrill. No one is trying to forgive what God does not forgive, nor is the Orthodox faith being questioned here. But what use is it to cluck our tongues and talk about the sins and damnation of others? We have only ourselves here – and hence my admonition. Be at peace.
The kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.