Category Archives: Bishop Kallistos Ware

by Kallistos Ware

‘Forgive Us …. As We Forgive’: Forgiveness In The Psalms And The Lord’s Prayer

Met. Kallistos in speaking in Wroclaw, Poland (photo: Jim Forest)
Met. Kallistos in speaking in Wroclaw, Poland (photo: Jim Forest)

by Kallistos Ware, Metropolitan of Diokleia

And throughout all Eternity
I forgive you, you forgive me.
As our dear Redeemer said:
‘This the Wine, and this the Bread.’

William Blake

The stupid neither forgive nor forget; the naïve forgive and forget; the wise forgive but do not forget.
Thomas Szasz

‘He is free because he forgives’

In the book by Kevin Andrews, The Flight of Ikaros1, there is a story that sums up the essence of forgiveness. Andrews was studying medieval fortresses in Greece. The year was 1949. He was travelling through a land devastated by the German occupation during the Second World War, and cruelly divided by the post-war struggle between Communists and anti-Communists that had only just drawn to a close. Arriving one evening in a village, he was given hospitality by the parish priest Papastavros. The priest’s house had been burnt down, and so he received his guest in the shed that was now his home.

Gradually Andrews learnt the priest’s story. His two eldest sons had joined the Resistance during the German occupation. But some villagers betrayed their hiding-place; they were captured and never seen again. About the same time, his wife died from starvation. After the Germans had left, Papastavros was living alone with one of his married daughters and her baby son. She was expecting her second child in a few weeks. One day he returned home to find his house in flames, set on fire by Communist partisans. ‘I was in time’, he recounted to Andrews, ‘to see them drag my daughter out and kill her; they shot all their bullets into her stomach. Then they killed the little boy in front of me.’

Those who did these things were not strangers coming from a distance, but they were local people. Papastavros knew exactly who they were, and he had to meet them daily. ‘I wonder how he has not gone mad,’ one of the village women remarked to Andrews. But the priest did not in fact lose his sanity. On the contrary, he spoke to the villagers about the need for forgiveness. ‘I tell them to forgive, and that there exists no other way,’ he said to Andrews. Their response, he added, was to laugh in his face. When, however, Andrews talked with the priest’s one surviving son, the latter did not laugh at his father, but spoke of him as a free man: ‘He is free because he forgives.’

Two phrases stand out in this account: ‘There exists no other way’, and ‘He is free because he forgives.’

There exists no other way. Certain human situations are so complex and intractable, so fraught with anguish, that there exists only one way out: to forgive. Retaliation makes the problem worse; as Mahatma Gandhi observed, ‘An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.’ Solely through forgiveness can we break the chain of mutual reprisal and self-destroying bitterness. Without forgiveness, there can be no hope of a fresh start. So Papastavros found, faced by the tragedies of enemy occupation and civil war. Surely his words apply also to many other situations of conflict, not least in the Holy Land.

He is free because he forgives. In the words of the Russian Orthodox starets St Silouan of Mount Athos (1866-1938), ‘Where there is forgiveness … there is freedom.’ If only we can bring ourselves to forgive – if we can at least want to forgive – then we shall find ourselves in what the Psalms call a ‘spacious place’ or ‘a place of liberty’: ‘We went through fire and water, but Thou broughtest us out into a place of liberty’ (Psalm 66:12). Forgiveness means release from a prison in which all the doors are locked on the inside. Only through forgiveness can we enter into what St Paul terms ‘the freedom of the glory of the children of God’ (Rom. 8:21).

Yet how hard, how painfully hard, it is to forgive and to be forgiven! To quote another Russian Orthodox witness, Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh (1914-2003), ‘Forgiveness is not a little brook on the boundary between slavery and freedom: it has breadth and depth, it is the Red Sea.’ ‘Do not think that you have acquired virtue,’ said the Desert Father Evagrius of Pontus (346-99), ‘unless you have struggled for it to the point of shedding your blood.’ The same can be said of forgiveness. Sometimes the struggle to forgive is indeed nothing less than an inner martyrdom, to the point of shedding our blood.

Forgiveness Sunday in the Orthodox Church

How shall we set out in our exodus across the ‘Red Sea’ of forgiveness? Let us consider first the way in which the Orthodox Church offers to its members an annual opportunity to make a fresh start, on what is known as ‘The Sunday of Forgiveness’. This will lead us to look more closely at forgiveness in the Psalms and especially in the Lord’s Prayer. What, we may ask, is the meaning of the Greek verb used in the Lord’s Prayer for ‘forgive’, aphiēmi, ‘let go’? Does this mean that to forgive is to condone, or at any rate to forget? Next, taking as our guide the early Fathers, we shall see how the phrase ‘Forgive us … as we forgive’ underlines the fundamental unity of the human race. Finally, we shall try to appreciate what is signified by the word ‘as’ in the forgiveness clause of the Lord’s Prayer : ‘ … as we forgive’. Why should the scope of God’s forgiveness be seemingly restricted by my own willingness to forgive? We shall end with four practical guidelines.

The Sunday of Forgiveness occurs immediately before the seven-week Fast of Lent, the ‘Great Fast’ in preparation for the ‘Feast of Feasts’, the Lord’s Resurrection at Pascha. The human animal, it has been said, is not only an animal that thinks, an animal that laughs and weeps, but much more profoundly an animal that expresses itself through symbolic actions. With good reason, then, the Orthodox Church affords its members the chance each year to externalize their longing for forgiveness, through a liturgical rite that is both corporate and personal.

On the morning of Forgiveness Sunday, the appointed Gospel reading is Matthew 6: 14-21, beginning with Christ’s words: ‘If you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.’ Then in the evening, at the end of Vespers, there comes a ceremony of mutual pardon. Usually the priest gives a homily, concluding with an appeal to his flock to forgive him for all his mistakes and shortcomings in the past year. Then he comes down the sanctuary steps to the floor of the nave where the people are standing; for there can be no genuinely mutual forgiveness unless I put myself on the same level as the other. Kneeling before the congregation, he says ‘Forgive me, a sinner.’ The people likewise kneel before the priest, answering ‘May God forgive you. Forgive us.’ To this the priest responds ‘God will forgive’, or ‘May God forgive and bless us all.’ After that the people come up one by one to the priest, and each kneels before him, as he in turn kneels before each of them; and they exchange the same words, ‘Forgive me …. God will forgive.’ Then, having first knelt before the priest, the members of the congregation go round the church kneeling before one another, each asking and granting pardon. All this, for obvious reasons, is easier to carry out if, as in traditional Orthodox practice, the church is not cluttered up with pews.

There is of course a danger that a ceremony such as this may become over-emotional, in which case the results will probably prove ephemeral. Forgiveness, after all, is not a feeling but an action. It involves not primarily our emotions but our will. It is a decision, which then requires to be given practical effect. There is also the opposite danger that some worshippers, growing accustomed to this ceremony year by year, will go through it in a manner that is merely formal and automatic. Ritual can all too easily become ossified.

Nevertheless, when full allowance has been made for the dangers of emotionalism and formalism, it remains true that for very many Orthodox Christians this annual service of mutual pardon is deeply healing. On the basis of my personal experience, after more than forty years of pastoral work in a parish, I can testify that again and again it has a transfiguring effect upon relationships within the local church family. It is an occasion that many of our people approach with the utmost seriousness. Let us not underestimate the power of ritual. Even if there are times when it becomes ossified, on other occasions it can and does act as a potent catalyst, enabling us to give expression to what would otherwise remain unacknowledged and repressed. Those too hesitant or embarrassed to call at one another’s homes and embark on a lengthy verbal explanation can make a new beginning within the framework of shared prayer. The Vespers of Forgiveness serves in this way as a genuine breakthrough, the sudden vision of a fresh landscape.

The burden of unhappy memories means, not surprisingly, that the Vespers of Forgiveness is somewhat subdued and sombre. We cry out in sorrow: ‘Turn not away Thy face from Thy servant, for I am in trouble; hear me speedily: hearken unto my soul and deliver it.’ Yet, along with sorrow, there is also a note of glad expectation. ‘Let us set out with joy upon the season of the Fast,’ we sing in one of the hymns; and a little later we add, ‘Thy grace has shone forth and given light to our souls.’ As the mutual pardon is being exchanged between priest and people, in many churches the choir sings the Resurrection hymns that will be used seven weeks later at Paschal midnight: to forgive is to rise again from the dead. St John Climacus, abbot of Mount Sinai in the seventh-century – whose book The Ladder of Divine Ascent is specially appointed for reading in Lent – has a phrase that exactly describes the spirit of the Vespers of Forgiveness: charopoion penthos, ‘mourning that causes gladness’ or ‘joy-creating sorrow’.

Sometimes people have told me that they find the phrase commonly used at the service, ‘Forgive me … God will forgive’, to be problematic and even evasive. Surely, they object, when someone asks for forgiveness, it is not enough for us to assure them that they are forgiven by God, for they already know that; what is required is that we should forgive them. This, however, is to overlook an essential point. Forgiveness is first and foremost a divine act: ‘Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ (Mark 2:7). If, then, I am to forgive someone else, and the other person is to forgive me, in the last resort this is possible only in so far as we are both of us in God. More specifically, we are able to forgive each other solely because we are both of us already forgiven by God. Our forgiveness is rooted in His, and is impossible without it: ‘Apart from Me you can do nothing’ (John 15:5).

Since, therefore, forgiveness is not primarily our human action but a divine action in which we humans participate, it is vitally important that in the process of mutual forgiveness we should allow space for God to operate. At the beginning of the Eucharistic service in the Orthodox Church, the Divine Liturgy, the deacon says to the priest, ‘It is time for the Lord to act’ (see Psalm 119:126), thereby affirming that the true celebrant at the Holy Mysteries is not the priest but Christ Himself. The phrase applies equally to our mutual forgiveness: here, too, it needs to be said, ‘It is time for the Lord to act.’ Our attempts at reconciliation often fail, precisely because we rely too much upon ourselves, and do not leave proper scope for the action of the Lord. With St. Paul we need to say, ‘not I, but Christ in me’ (Gal. 2:20). Such, then, is the spirit in which we reply at the Vespers of Forgiveness, ‘God will forgive.’

Forgiveness in the Psalms

In order to deepen our appreciation of the mystery of forgiveness, let us turn both to the Old Testament and to the New; and let us consider how forgiveness is understood first in the Psalms and then in the Lord’s Prayer. Because of the central place that the Psalms have occupied in the liturgical life of the Church, in both the East and the West, the testimony that they bear to the meaning of forgiveness is particularly significant.

First of all the Psalms contain a number of striking passages in which the worshipper pleads to God for forgiveness. The best known and most eloquent of these pleas is Psalm 51, ‘Have mercy upon me, O God, after Thy great goodness’, which is recited no less than four times daily in the Byzantine Divine Office, at the Midnight Service, Matins, the Third Hour and Compline. Another such plea is Psalm 130, ‘Out of the deep …’:

If Thou, Lord, shouldest mark what is done amiss,
O Lord, who could abide it? (verse 4).

The same urgent cry for forgiveness recurs in many other Psalms:

For Thy name’s sake, O Lord,
Be merciful to my sin, for it is great (Psalm 25:10).

Deliver me from all mine offences …
Take Thy plague away from me (Psalm 39: 9, 11).

I said, ‘Lord, be merciful unto me:
Heal me, for I have sinned against Thee’ (Psalm 41:4).

O remember not our past sins, but have mercy upon us, and that soon:
For we are come to great misery (Psalm 79:8).

In these and similar passages of the Psalms, it is made abundantly clear how greatly we need the healing grace of divine forgiveness. Without God’s mercy we are helpless. It is also made clear that we have no claims upon God. Helpless as we are, we can do nothing to earn or deserve God’s mercy, nothing to oblige or constrain Him to forgive us. We can do no more than wait in patience and humility for His free gift of pardon. ‘I wait for the Lord, my soul doth wait for Him … A broken and contrite heart, O God, shalt Thou not despise’ (Psalms 130:5; 51:17).

In the second place, the Psalms repeatedly insist these pleas for divine forgiveness do not remain unheard. The Lord is a God of loving-kindness and tender love, ever eager to show mercy and grant healing. This is the theme in particular of Psalm 103, used daily at Matins in the Orthodox Church, and also regularly in the Divine Liturgy:

Praise the Lord, O my soul:
And all that is within me praise His holy name …
Who forgiveth all thy sin:
And healeth all thine infirmities …
The Lord is full of compassion and mercy:
Long-suffering and of great goodness …
Like as a father hath compassion upon his children,
So hath the Lord compassion upon them that fear Him (verses 1, 3, 8, 13).

In a memorable phrase, it is said that God ‘covers’ our sin:

Blessed is he whose unrighteousness is forgiven:
Even he whose sin is covered (Psalm 32:1).

Elsewhere it is said that our sins are ‘blotted out’:

To Thee shall all flesh come to confess their sins:
When our misdeeds prevail against us, in Thy mercy do Thou blot them out (Psalm 65:2).

A leitmotif in the ‘historical’ Psalms is the way in which, again and again in the story of salvation, the people of Israel has gone astray, and yet God in His faithful love has forgiven them (Psalms 78:38; 106: 43-44; 107: 13-16; cf. 85: 1-3). God, it is said elsewhere, is like a shepherd who goes in search of a lost sheep (cf. Matt. 18:12; Luke 15:4):

I have gone astray like a sheep that is lost:
O seek thy servant, for I do not forget Thy commandments (Psalm 119:176).

Yet we are not presumptuously to take God’s forgiveness for granted, for His mercy goes hand in hand with His justice (cf. Romans 11:22):

My song shall be of mercy and justice (Psalm 101:1).

Thirdly, if we are in this way forgiven by God, then we in our turn are called to extend forgiveness to our fellow humans. This is not in fact affirmed in the Psalms very clearly or very frequently, but there are occasions in which it is at least implied, in the context of money-lending:

The ungodly borroweth and payeth not again:
But the righteous giveth and is bountiful …
The righteous is ever bountiful and lendeth:
And his children shall be blessed (Psalm 31:21, 26).

It is good for a man to be generous when he lendeth (Psalm 112:5).

This can perhaps be enlarged to include not only generosity over debts but other forms of remission and forgiveness. At the same time a restriction has to be noted. We cannot grant forgiveness on behalf of others, in regard to offences that have been committed not against us but against them:

But no man may deliver his brother:
Nor pay a price unto God for him (Psalm 49:7).

Sadly, however, it has to be noted that there are grave limitations in the Psalms concerning the scope of forgiveness. If, as we have seen, there are only a few places where it is suggested that we should forgive others, there are unfortunately many other passages in which the Psalmist curses his enemies and prays for their destruction. God is invoked as a God of vengeance (Psalms 54:1; 94:1). We are to hate our enemies with a ‘perfect hatred’ (Psalm 139:22). Particularly cruel is the punishment called down upon the daughter of Babylon:

Blessed shall he be that taketh thy children:
And throweth them against the stones (Psalm 137:9).

Most notably, Psalm 109 contains an imprecation daunting its cruelty:

Let his days be few:
And let another seize his possessions.
Let his children be fatherless:
And his wife become a widow.
Let his children be vagabonds and beg their bread:
Let them be driven out even from their desolate places …
Let there be no man to pity him:
Or to have compassion upon his fatherless children (verses 7-9, 11).

Such a passage does not stand alone: compare, for example, Psalms 83: 9-17, 129: 5-8, and 140: 8-10. I have noted altogether over thirty passages in the Psalms asking God to inflict pain and suffering upon others, and this figure is almost certainly an underestimate. It is of course possible to explain away such passages by interpreting them symbolically, as referring not to our fellow human beings but to our evil thoughts or to the demons. But such was not their original intention

‘… seventy times seven …’

When we turn, however, from the Old Testament to the New, we are at once impressed by a manifest and remarkable contrast. Nowhere in the Gospels does Christ instruct us to hate our enemies: He tells us, on the contrary, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’ (Matt. 5: 44). The law of retaliation is firmly abrogated: we are not to ‘resist an evildoer’, but to ‘turn the other cheek’ (Matt. 5:39). There are to be no limits to our forgiveness: we are to forgive our brother ‘seven times a day’ (Luke 17:4); and not only that, but ‘seventy times seven’ (Matt.18:22). We do not find such statements in the Psalms. Nor, indeed, do we find in the Psalms the statement that occupies such a prominent place in the Lord’s Prayer: ‘Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors’ (Matt. 6:12). The Lord’s Prayer is comprehensive but extremely concise: if, then, in such a short prayer, nearly a quarter – no less than 13 words in the Greek text, out of 57 (or 58) 0 – is devoted to the theme of forgiveness, this shows how crucially important it is in God’s sight that we should forgive and be forgiven.

Such, certainly, is the view of Origen (d. 253/4): if Christ, he says, places such strong emphasis upon forgiveness in the model prayer that He has given us, this is because there cannot be any true prayer at all unless it is offered in a forgiving spirit.11 St Gregory of Nyssa (d.ca. 394) goes so far as to claim that the clause ‘Forgive us .. as we forgive” is the culminating point in the entire prayer; it constitutes ‘the very peak of virtue’.12 He adds, however, that – fundamental though the clause is – its true sense is not at all easy to grasp: ‘The meaning surpasses any interpretation in words.’13

A valuable insight into the significance of forgiveness is provided by the literal sense of the verb used in the Lord’s Prayer for ‘forgive’, aphiēmi. The primary idea conveyed by this word is ‘let go’, ‘set aside’, ‘leave behind’. It denotes such things as release from captivity, the cancellation of a debt, or the remission of punishment. The unforgiving grasp, retain, and hold fast; the forgiving let go. Yet, if we ‘let go’ the memory of an offence, does this not suggest that we are condoning the evil that has been done? That, surely, cannot be the correct meaning of forgiveness. In the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, ‘Forgiveness does not mean condoning what has been done. It means taking what has happened seriously and not minimizing it.’14 To condone an evil is to pass over it, to ignore it, or else it is to pretend that it is not an evil, to treat it as if it were good. But to forgive is something altogether different from this. There can be no genuine forgiveness that is not truthful and realistic. Let us not practise any evasion. If an evil has been done, then this has to be frankly admitted.

Moreover, if the process of forgiveness is to be brought to full completion, the evil has to be frankly admitted by both sides, by the aggressor as well as the victim. It is true that, when we suffer wrong, we should endeavour to forgive the other immediately, without any delay, not waiting for the other to acknowledge the wrong. It was precisely in this spirit that Jesus prayed at His crucifixion, ‘Forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing’ (Luke 23:24). If, however, the forgiveness is to come to proper interpersonal fulfilment, more than this is required. Forgiveness needs to be accepted as well as offered; and the one who admits no guilt can accept no forgiveness.

If forgiveness, in the sense of ‘letting go’, is not the same as condoning, should we say that to forgive is to forget? Shall we make our own King Lear’s words, ‘Pray you now, forget and forgive’? The answer seems to be both yes and no. It all depends on what we remember (or forget) and on how we do so. Certainly there is no point in clinging to the memory of trivial misunderstandings and injuries. We should rather allow them to slip quietly away into oblivion, for we have better things with which to occupy our minds. There are, however, events in our personal lives, and in the lives of the communities to which we belong, that are far too important simply to be forgotten. It would not be right to say to the members of the Armenian nation, ‘Forget the massacres of 1915’, or to the Jewish people, ‘Forget the Shoah in the Second World War.’ These are matters that, for the sake of our shared humanity, none of us should forget, not least so as to ensure that such atrocities may never be allowed to happen again.

More decisive than what we remember is how we do so. We are not to remember in a spirit of hatred and recrimination, or for the sake of revenge. Dr Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, has rightly said: ‘Remember the past … but do not be held captive by it. Turn it into a blessing, not a curse; a source of hope, not humiliation.’15 Our memories are not to be repressed or negated, but at the same time they require to be purified and healed. We need to remember, yet not self-righteously, not with aggressive accusations, but in a spirit of compunction and mourning. We need to remember with love. But that is difficult.

Forgiveness, it can even be said, begins not with an act of forgetfulness, but with an act of mindfulness and self-knowledge. We have to recognize the harm that has been done, the wound that we or the other carry in our heart. Only after this moment of truthful recognition can we then begin to ‘let go’, not in the sense of consigning to oblivion, but in the sense of no longer being held prisoner by the memory. Remember, but be free.

Responsible for everyone and everything

In the Patristic interpretation of the Lord’s Prayer, a dominant theme is the unity of the human race. The early Fathers are in full agreement with the words of Julian of Norwich (fourteenth century), ‘In the sight of God, all man is one man, and one man is all man.’16 They agree equally with John Donne (1571/2-1631), ‘No man is an Island, entire of it self.’17 Our need to forgive and to be forgiven springs directly from the fact that we are all of us interdependent, members of a single human family. Indeed, this insistence upon coinherence is to be seen, not only in the clause ‘Forgive us … as we forgive’, but in the Lord’s Prayer as a whole. St Cyprian of Carthage (d. 258) notes how the prepositions in the Prayer are consistently in the plural, not the singular – not ‘my’ but ‘our’, not ‘me’ but ‘us’:

We do not say ‘My Father who art in heaven’, or ‘Give me this day my bread’, nor does each one ask that only his own debt be remitted, nor does he request for himself alone that he may not be led into temptation or may be delivered from the evil one. Prayer with us is public and common, and when we pray we do not pray for one but for the whole people, because the whole people are one.18

This perception of our human unity, in Cyprian’s view, has its foundation in the Christian doctrine of God. We believe in God the Trinity, who is not only one but one-in-three, not only personal but interpersonal; we believe in the communion of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and so we human beings are saved, not in isolation, but in communion one with another.19

This unity that marks us out as human persons, while underlined throughout the Lord’s Prayer, is particularly evident in the clause concerning forgiveness. In the words of Clement of Alexandria (ca. 150 – ca. 215), when we say ‘Forgive us … as we forgive’, we are proclaiming that ‘all humankind is the work of one Will’.20 This is a point emphasized by St Maximos the Confessor (ca. 580-662) in his commentary on the Lord’s Prayer. Unity and mutual love, he says, constitute ‘the principle (logos) of nature’, according to which we human beings have been created. When, therefore, we pray for forgiveness, we are bringing our human will into harmony with the logos of our nature. Conversely, to withhold forgiveness is to ‘sunder human nature by separating ourselves from our fellow humans, even though we are ourselves human’. Our refusal to live in union with each other through mutual forgiveness is therefore self-destructive: ‘Failing such union, our nature remains self-divided in its will and cannot receive God’s divine and ineffable gift of Himself.’21

St Gregory of Nyssa likewise sees the refusal of forgiveness as self-destructive: ‘In condemning your neighbour, you thereby condemn yourself.’22 Giving a wide-ranging application to the notion of human unity, Gregory maintains that it extends through time as well as space. When saying ‘Forgive us’ in the Lord’s Prayer, we are asking forgiveness not only for our own personal sins but also for ‘the debts that are common to our nature, and more particularly for the ancestral sin23 that the whole human race inherits from Adam. Even if we keep ourselves free from personal sins – in fact, as Gregory comments, none of us can claim this of ourselves, even for an hour – we would still need to say ‘Forgive us’ on behalf of Adam:

Adam lives in us … and so we do well to make use of these words Forgive us our trespasses. Even if we were Moses or Samuel or someone else of pre-eminent virtue, we would none the less regard these words as appropriate to ourselves, since we are human; we share in Adam’s nature and therefore share also in his fall. Since, then, as the Apostle says, ‘we all die in Adam’ (1 Cor. 15:22), these words that suitably express Adam’s penitence are likewise appropriate for all those who have died with him.24

A similar line of thought is found in St Mark the Monk (? early fifth century). In his opinion, we are called to repent not only ‘for our own sin’ but also ‘for the sin of transgression’, that is to say, for the ancestral sin of Adam. Repentance is vicarious:

The saints are required to offer repentance not only on their own behalf but also on behalf of their neighbour, for without active love they cannot be made perfect … In this way the whole universe is held together in unity, and through God’s providence we are each of us assisted by one another.25

Even though there is no explicit reference here to the Lord’s Prayer, Mark’s line of argument can surely be applied likewise to the petition ‘Forgive us … as we forgive.’ If we can repent for the sins of others, then we can and should also ask forgiveness on their behalf. The principle of mutual solidarity applies equally in both cases: ‘we are each of us assisted by one another’. No one is forgiven and saved in isolation.

These statements by Gregory of Nyssa and by Mark the Monk fall far short of a fully developed theology of original guilt, such as we find in St Augustine (354-430). Mark specifically excludes the view that, in a juridical sense, we are guilty of Adam’s sin, considered as an act of personal choice.26 Yet, on a level more profound than legal culpability, there exists a mystical solidarity that unites us all one to another; and it is of this that Gregory and Mark are speaking. ‘All man is one man’, and so we are each of us ‘responsible for everything and everyone’, to use the phrase of Dostoevsky’s Starets Zosima.27 Even if not personally guilty, nevertheless we bear the burden of what Adam and all the other members of the human family have done. They live in us, and we in them. Here as always the vital word is ‘we’, not ‘I’. None of us falls alone, for we drag each other down; and none of us is forgiven and saved alone. Forgiveness is not solitary but social.

How far can the notion of vicarious forgiveness be legitimately extended? Can I forgive or accept forgiveness on behalf of others? So far as asking forgiveness is concerned, it is surely reasonable to request forgiveness on behalf of others, when those others are joined to me in some way, for example by kinship, nationhood, or religious allegiance. If, tracing back our ancestry, we become aware that our family tree is tainted with unresolved tensions and alienation, we can and should pray for the forgiveness and healing of our forebears. By the same token, the descendant of a slave-trader might rightly feel impelled to ask forgiveness in his heart – and perhaps by some external gesture as well – from the families of those whom his ancestor took captive and sold into bondage. Pope John Paul II acted as a true Christian when, during the visit of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I to Rome in June 2004, he asked the Patriarch’s forgiveness for the sack of Constantinople by the Latin Crusaders eight hundred years previously.28 How I long for an Orthodox church leader to ask forgiveness in the same way from the Catholics, for the many evils that we Orthodox have inflicted upon them! And all of us, Orthodox and Catholics alike, have to seek forgiveness from the Jews, God’s Chosen People, for the heavy sins that, over the centuries, we have committed against them.

Have we the right, however, not only to ask forgiveness on behalf of others, but also to offer it on their behalf? Here there is reason for us to be much more hesitant. For myself, I agree with the late Rabbi Albert Friedlander – and with Psalm 49:9 – that one cannot forgive offences that have not been committed against oneself. It would be inappropriate, and indeed presumptuous, for me as a non-Jew to claim authority to forgive the suffering inflicted upon the Jews during the Shoah in the Second World War. It is not for me but for the Jews themselves to decide how those sufferings should be remembered, and how and when they should be forgiven. In the Lord’s Prayer, we do not say, ‘… as we forgive those who have trespassed against others’, but ‘… as we forgive those who have trespassed against us’.

Issuing an order to God

What light do the Fathers shed upon the central word in the forgiveness petition – indeed, the most puzzling word in the whole of the Lord’s Prayer – the word ‘as’: ‘Forgive us … as we forgive’? ‘No word in English’, states Charles Williams, ‘carries a greater possibility of terror than the little word “as” in that clause; it is the measuring rod of the heavenly City, and the knot of the new union. But also it is the key of hell and the knife that cuts the knot of union.’29 Truly it is a hazardous prayer. We dare to apply to ourselves with unmitigated rigour the principle laid down by Christ. ‘The measure you give will be the measure you get’ (Matt. 7:2). ‘What you do,’ warned St Cyprian, ‘that you will also yourself suffer.’30 As St John Chrysostom (ca. 347-407) put it, ‘We ourselves have control over the judgement that is to be passed upon us.’31

Not only is it a hazardous request to God, but it is also a very strange one. It is as if we were issuing an order to God and instructing Him how to act. ‘If I do not forgive others,’ we are saying to Him, ‘then do You withhold forgiveness from me.’ Nowhere else in the Lord’s Prayer do we issue orders in this way. St Gregory of Nyssa attempts to spell out the paradox in terms of what may be called ‘mimetic inversion’. Under normal circumstances, he observes, it is we who are called to imitate God; as St Paul said, ‘Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ’ (1 Cor. 11:1). This is particularly the case when we forgive others. Since in the last resort it is God alone who has the power to forgive sins (Mark 2:7), it is only possible for us to forgive others if we imitate God. We cannot genuinely forgive, that is to say, unless we have been taken up into God and have ourselves ‘in some sense become God’, to use Gregory’s phrase. The one who forgives needs to be ‘deified’ or ‘divinized’; there can be no effective forgiveness without theosis.32 That is the normal pattern. But here, in the case of the Lord’s Prayer – and Gregory admits that this is a ‘bold thing’ to say33 – the customary order is reversed. On this occasion, it is we who serve as an example to God. Instead of ourselves imitating Him, we are telling Him to imitate us: ‘What I have done, do You do likewise; imitate Your servant, O Lord …. I have forgiven; do You forgive. I have shown great mercy to my neighbour; imitate my loving-kindness, You who are by nature loving-kind.’34

Yet, in this clause ‘Forgive us … as we forgive’, precisely how strong a sense should be attached to the conjunction ‘as’? Should it be understood as causative, proportionate or conditional?

(1) Is the sense causative? In that case, we are saying to God, ‘Forgive us because we forgive’; our forgiveness is the cause of His. This is indeed the way in which some Patristic authors interpreted the phrase. Clement of Alexandria even suggested that, by forgiving others, we somehow compel God to forgive us.35 Yet a causative interpretation of this kind surely presents grave difficulties. As Calvin has rightly insisted, forgiveness comes from the ‘free mercy’ of God.36 It is an unmerited gift of divine grace, conferred solely through Christ’s Cross and Resurrection; it is never something that we can earn or deserve. God acts with sovereign liberty, and we have no claims upon Him. As Paul affirmed, quoting the Pentateuch: ‘For God says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who shows mercy’ (Rom. 9:15-16; cf. Exod. 33:19). This is rendered abundantly clear in Christ’s parable concerning the labourers in the vineyard: to those who complain about their wages, the master replies, ‘Have I not the right to do as I choose with what is my own?’ (Matt. 20:15). Moreover, the initiative rests with God and not with us. He does not wait for us to forgive others before He extends His forgiveness to us. On the contrary, His act of free and unrestricted forgiveness precedes any act of forgiveness on our part: ‘God proves His love for us, in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us’ (Rom. 5:8).

(2) If the word ‘as’ cannot be causative, is it proportionate? Does it signify ‘to the same degree’, ‘according to the same measure’? Once more, this can hardly be the true sense. Between our forgiveness and God’s there can be no common measure. He forgives with a fullness and generosity far beyond our wildest imagining: ‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, says the Lord’ (Isa. 55:8). The transcendent and incomparable character of divine forgiveness is underlined in another Matthaean parable, that of the two debtors (Matt. 18:23-35). In relation to God, we are like the slave who owed ten thousand talents (a talent being equivalent to more than fifteen years’ wages received by a labourer), whereas in relation to each other we are like the slave who owed a hundred denarii (a denarius being the usual day’s wage for a labourer). Even St Gregory of Nyssa, after suggesting that in His act of forgiveness God is imitating us, at once goes on to qualify this by asserting that our sins against God are immeasurably heavier than any sins by others against us.37 Later he refers for confirmation precisely to the parable of the two debtors.38

(3) If, then, our forgiveness is neither the cause nor the measure of God’s forgiveness, what further alternative remains? There exists a third possibility: it is the condition. Forgiveness is indeed unmerited, but it is not unconditional. God for His part is always overwhelmingly eager to forgive. This divine eagerness is movingly expressed in the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15 : 11-32), which is read at the Orthodox Liturgy on the Sunday two weeks before the Sunday of Forgiveness. The father does not simply sit and wait passively for his son to return home. We are to imagine him standing day after day outside his house, anxiously scanning the horizon in the forlorn hope that at long last he may catch sight of a familiar figure. Then, as soon as the prodigal comes into view, while he is still far off, the father rushes out to meet his son, embracing and kissing him, and inviting him into the feast. Such is God’s great willingness to forgive us and to welcome us home. Later in the story the father again goes out, this time in the hope of persuading his elder son to come and share the feast. This double going out on the part of the loving father is of primary significance if we are to appreciate the quality of divine mercy.

Yes, indeed, God is always eager to forgive – far more so than we are to repent. In the words of St Isaac the Syrian (seventh century), ‘There exists in Him a single love and compassion that is spread out over all creation, a love that is without alteration, timeless and everlasting.’39 Calling to mind Christ’s agony in the garden of Gethsemane and His death on the Cross, we ask ourselves: What more could God incarnate have done to win us back to Himself, that He has not done? Forgiveness, however, has not only to be offered but to be accepted. God knocks at the door of the human heart (Rev. 3:20), but He does not break the door down: we for our part have to open it.

Here precisely we find the true meaning of the word ‘as’ in the Lord’s Prayer. It is not that God is unwilling to forgive us. But if, despite God’s unfailing eagerness to forgive, we on our side harden our hearts and refuse forgiveness to others, then quite simply we render ourselves incapable of receiving the divine forgiveness. Closing our hearts to others, we close them also to God; rejecting others, we reject Him. If we are unforgiving, then by our own act we place ourselves outside the interchange of healing love. God does not exclude us; it is we who exclude ourselves.

Our forgiveness of others, then, is not the cause of God’s forgiveness towards us, but it is certainly the condition without which God’s forgiveness cannot pass within us. Divine pardon is indeed a free gift that we can never earn. What concerns us here, however, is not merit but capacity. Our relation to God and our relation to our fellow humans are strictly interdependent. As St Silouan of Mount Athos affirmed, ‘Our brother is our life.’40 This is true not in a sentimental but in an ontological sense. Love for God and love for neighbour are not two loves but one.

‘Forgive us … as we forgive’: when we say these words, so Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh has rightly cautioned us, ‘we take our salvation into our own hands’.41

Four words of counsel

As we begin to cross the Red Sea of forgiveness, let us remind ourselves of certain practical guidelines.

(1) Do not delay, but do not be in haste. Do not delay: the time for forgiveness is always now. Maximize the moment. The devil’s weapons are nostalgia and procrastination: he tells us ‘Too late’ or ‘Too soon’. But, where the devil says ‘Yesterday’ or ‘Tomorrow’, the Holy Spirit says ‘Today’.

We are not to think within ourselves, ‘First, I will change for the better; then I will be ready to forgive.’ Still less are we to think (what is far worse), ‘First, I will wait to see whether the other is really sorry for the wrong that he has done, and whether he has really changed for the better; then I will decide whether to forgive him.’ Let us, on the contrary, be like the loving father in the story of the prodigal. Let us take the initiative, and run out to meet the other. Forgiveness has to come first; it is the cause of the change in ourselves and in others, not the effect. To adapt a phrase of the Romanian Orthodox theologian Fr Dumitru Staniloae (1903-93), ‘In so far as I am not forgiven, I am unintelligible to myself.’42

Yet there is another side to the question. Forgive now, in your heart; but in your outward actions do not be overhasty. Forgiveness signifies healing, and healing often takes time. Premature requests for forgiveness can make the situation worse. If we force ourselves upon the other, without first seeking through imaginative empathy to discover what the other is thinking and feeling, we may widen rather than bridge the gulf that separates us. Without putting things off, often we need to pause – not with passive indifference but waiting with alertness upon God – until the kairos, the moment of opportunity, has become clear. The Emperor Augustus was right: Festina lente.43

(2) Forgive the other, but also be willing to accept the forgiveness that the other is offering to us. It is hard to forgive; but often it is even harder to acknowledge that we ourselves need to be forgiven. Let us be humble enough to accept the gift of another’s pardon. As Charles Williams wisely observed, ‘Many reconciliations have unfortunately broken down because both parties have come prepared to forgive and unprepared to be forgiven.’44

(3) Forgive others, but also forgive yourself. Have we not sometimes said, or heard others say, ‘I will never forgive myself for that’? Yet how can we accept forgiveness from others, if we will not forgive ourselves? In the words once more of Charles Williams, by remaining in this state of ‘half-anger, half-anguish’, we each create for ourselves ‘a separate hell’.45 Judas regretted what he had done, but in his case self-knowledge brought him not to fresh hope but to despair; unable to accept God’s forgiveness, and therefore unable to forgive himself, he went out and committed suicide (Matt. 27: 3-5). Peter on the other hand took a different path. Brought to self-knowledge by the crowing of the cock, he wept bitter tears of remorse; yet this remorse did not reduce him to despair. On the contrary, seeing the risen Christ at the lakeside, he did not turn away from Him into a ‘separate hell’, but drew near with hope. Accepting Christ’s forgiveness, forgiving himself, he made a new beginning (Matt. 26:75; John 21:15-19).

(4) Pray. If we cannot yet find within our heart the possibility of forgiving the other, then let us at least pray for them. In the words of St Silouan, ‘If you will pray for your enemies, peace will come to you.’46 Let us ask God that we may not make the other’s burden more heavy, that we may not be to them a scandal and a cause of stumbling. And if, as we pray, we cannot yet bring ourselves to the point of actually forgiving, then let us ask God that we may experience at least the desire and longing to forgive. There are situations in which truly to want something is already to attain it. Like the man who brought his sick child to Christ and cried out, ‘Lord, I believe; help my unbelief’ (Mark 9 : 24), let us also cry out with tears: ‘Lord, I forgive; help my unforgivingness.’ Slowly, gradually, there will come at last the moment when we are able to remember with love.

By invoking God’s help in prayer and by admitting our own helplessness, we are reminded of the all-important truth that forgiveness is a divine prerogative. It is not simply our action, but the action of God in us. To forgive, in a full and genuine sense, we need to be ‘in God’. ‘It is God who has shone in our hearts … the all-surpassing power is from Him and not from us’ (2 Cor. 4 : 6-7). This ‘all-surpassing power’ of God is communicated to us above all through the ‘mysteries’ or sacraments of the Church; and, in the Patristic interpretation of ‘Our Father’, at least two of these ‘mysteries’ are mentioned implicitly in the course of the Prayer. When we say, ‘Give us today our daily bread’, we are to think not of material bread alone but of the ‘bread from heaven’, the Eucharist. Then, in the petition that follows, ‘Forgive us … as we forgive’, we are to recall the forgiveness of sins that we have received in Holy Baptism. The Lord’s Prayer, according to St Augustine, is in this way a continual renewal of Baptism: reciting the words that Christ has given us, ‘daily we are washed clean’.47 Our forgiveness, then, does not depend merely upon our feelings, or upon the decision of our will. It has an objective basis, in the sacrament of our baptismal washing.

Flying kites

After Orthodox Christians have knelt before each other at the Vespers of Forgiveness, asking and granting pardon, what do they do on the next day, the first day of Lent, known as ‘Clean Monday’ (Kathara Devtera)? In many places it is still the custom to go out on the hills and have a picnic; and on this, the first open-air festival of the year, both children and grown-ups fly kites in the spring breeze. Such can also be our inner experience when we begin to forgive one another. To forgive is to enter spiritual springtime. It is to emerge from gloom into the sunlight, from self-imprisonment into the liberty of the open air. It is to ascend the hills, to let the wind blow on our faces, and to fly noetic kites, the kites of imagination, hope and joy.

As his son said of the priest Papastavros, ‘He is free because he forgives.’

Footnotes

1 Kevin Andrews, The Flight of Ikaros: A Journey into Greece (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1959), pp. 109-19.
2 I take this sentence from a pamphlet entitled The F Word: Images of Forgiveness (no place, no date).
3 Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov), Saint Silouan the Athonite (Tolleshunt Knights, Essex: The Monastery of St John the Baptist, 1991), p. 341.
4 Archbishop Anthony Bloom, Living Prayer (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1966), p. 31. See also his perceptive words about forgiveness in Meditations on a Theme (London/Oxford: Mowbrays, 1972), pp. 104-8.
5 On prayer 136; tr. Robert E. Sinkewicz, Evagrius of Pontus : the Greek Ascetic Corpus (Oxford: OUP, 2003), p. 207 (translation modified).
6 For the liturgical texts used on the Sunday of Forgiveness, see The Lenten Triodion, tr. Mother Mary and Archimandrite Kallistos Ware (London/Boston: Faber & Faber, 1978), pp. 168-83, especially p. 183. Most of the hymnology for the day in fact alludes, not to mutual forgiveness, but to the other main theme of the Sunday, the Casting out of Adam from Paradise.
7 The details of the ceremony vary in different places. A simpler form of mutual pardon is used daily at the end of Compline: see Service Book of the Holy Orthodox-Catholic Apostolic Church, tr. Isabel Florence Hapgood, 2nd. edtn (New York: Association Press, 1922), p. 162; The Liturgikon: The Book of Divine Services for the Priest and the Deacon, ed. The Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, 2nd edtn. (Englewood, NJ: Antakya Press, 1994), pp. 67, 98.
8 Not that there is anything wrong with the emotions as such, for they are an integral part of our human personhood according to the divine image, and so they can and should be offered up to God in our ‘reasonable worship’ (Rom. 12:1). I am thinking here, however, of a febrile emotionalism that is artificial and exaggerated.
9 The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 7, title (PG 88: 801C), tr. Archimandrite Lazarus Moore (London: Faber & Faber, 1959), p. 113.
10 The Greek text, as used liturgically, in the Orthodox Church, contains 58 words; in critical editions of the New Testament there is one word less, as the definite article is omitted before gēs (‘earth’).
11 On prayer 8:1, 9:1, ed. P. Koetschan, GCS (Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1899), p. 317; tr. Rowan A. Greer, The Classics of Western Christianity (New York/Ramsey/Toronto: Panlist Press, 1979), pp. 97,98. On the Patristic use of the Lord’s Prayer, see the systematic study, with detailed bibliography, by Kenneth W. Stevenson, The Lord’s Prayer : A Text in Tradition (London: SCM, 2004), to which I am much indebted.
12 On the Lord’s Prayer, homily 5, ed. J.F. Callahan, Gregorii Nysseni Opera VII/2 (Leiden/New York/Köln, 1992) p. 59, line 1; tr. Hilda C. Graef, Ancient Christian Writers 18 (New York: Newman Press, 1954), p. 71.
13 On the Lord’s Prayer, homily 5, ed. Callahan, p. 61 : 10-11; tr. Graef, p.73. Here (and elsewhere) I have modified Dr Graef’s translation.
14 Quoted in the pamphlet The F Word : Images of Forgiveness.
15 The Times (London), 17 July 2004, p. 47.
16 Quoted by Charles Williams, The Forgiveness of Sins (London : Geoffrey Bles, 1942), p. 16. This brief study, written in the middle of the Second World War, remains one of the most helpful treatments on the subject.
17 Devotions upon Emergent Occasions (London: Thomas Jones, 1624), Meditation XVII.
18 On the Lord’s Prayer 8, ed. C. Moreschini, Corpus Christianorum III/A, Pars II (Turnhout: Brepols, 1976), lines 103-18; cited in Stevenson, The Lord’s Prayer, p. 33.
19 On the Lord’s Prayer 23, ed. Moreschini, lines 447-9.
20 Stromateis 7:81:2, ed. O. Stählin and L. Früchtel, GCS (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1970), p.58; tr. F.J.A. Hort and J.B. Mayor, Clement of Alexandria : Miscellanies Book VII (London: Macmillan, 1902), p. 141.
21 On the Lord’s Prayer, ed. Peter van Deun, Corpus Christianorum 23 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1991), lines 662-8; tr. G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard and Kallistos Ware, The Philokalia, vol. 2 (London/Boston: Faber & Faber, 1981), p. 301 (translation adapted).
22 On the Lord’s Prayer, homily 5, ed. Callahan, p. 61 : 5-6; cf. p. 69:24; tr. Graef, pp. 73, 80.
23 The Greek Fathers, and also most present-day Orthodox writers, speak not of ‘original sin’ but of ‘ancestral sin’ (propatorikē hamartia). There is a subtle difference in meaning between the two terms.
24 On the Lord’s Prayer, homily 5, ed. Callahan, pp. 64:23; 65:2; 66:7-15; tr. Graef, pp. 76,77.
25 On repentance 12 and 11, ed. G.-M. de Durand, Sources chrétiennes 445 (Paris: Cerf, 1999), pp. 252, 250.
26 On baptism 17, ed. de Durand, op. cit., p. 392.
27 Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, tr. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (New York: Vintage Classics, 1991), p. 320.
28 Service Orthodoxe de Presse et d’Information (SOP) 290 (July-August 2004), pp. 1-3.
29 The Forgiveness of Sins, p. 66.
30 On the Lord’s Prayer 23, ed. Moreschini, lines 440-1.
31 On Matthew, homily 19:6 (PG 57: 281).
32 On the Lord’s Prayer, homily 5, ed. Callahan, pp. 59:1-11; 60 : 15-16; 61 : 15-17; tr. Graef, pp. 71, 72, 73.
33 op. cit., ed. Callahan, pp. 61 : 13-14; tr. Graef, p. 73.
34 op. cit., ed. Callahan, p. 61 : 23-24; 62 : 7-9; tr. Graef, pp. 73, 74.
35 Stromateis 7 : 86 : 6, ed. Stählin and Früchtel, p. 62; tr. Hort and Mayor, p. 153.
36 Stevenson, The Lord’s Prayer, p. 165.
37 On the Lord’s Prayer, homily 5, ed. Callahan, p. 62 : 9-11; tr. Graef, p. 74.
38 op. cit., ed. Callahan, pp. 69 : 26; 70 : 12; tr. Graef, pp. 80-81. The parable is quoted to the same effect by other early Christian writers, such as Tertullian (ca. 160- ca. 225), On the Prayer 7, ed. and tr. E. Evans (London: SPCK, 1953), pp. 12-13; Origen, On prayer 28 : 7, ed. Koetschau, p. 379; tr. Greer, p. 150.
39 Isaac of Nineveh (Isaac the Syrian), ‘The Second Part’, Chapters IV – XLI, tr. Sebastian Brock, Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium 555, Scriptores Syri 225 (Louvain : Peeters, 1995), Homily 40 : 1, p. 174.
40 Archimandrite Sophrony, Saint Silouan the Athonite, pp. 47, 371.
41 Archbishop Anthony Bloom, Living Prayer, p. 30.
42 Marc-Antoine Costa de Beauregard, Dumitru Staniloae : Ose comprendre que Je t’aime (Paris: Cerf, 1983), p. 24: ‘Mois-même, tout que je ne suis pas aimé, je suis incomprehensible.’
43 Suetonius, Lives of the Caesars, ‘Divus Augustus’, §25 (‘Make haste slowly’).
44 The Forgiveness of Sins, p. 113.
45 The Forgiveness of Sins, pp. 77-78.
46 Archimandrite Sofrony, Saint Silouan the Athonite, p. 377.
47 Augustine, Sermon 59 : 7; cf. 56 : 11; 57 : 8 (PL 38: 382, 390, 401). See Stevenson, The Lord’s Prayer, p. 82. A similar interpretation is given by Caesarius of Arles (ca. 470-542), and by Euthymius Zigabenus (twelfth century): see Stevenson, op. cit., pp. 90, 108.

* * *

Healing in the Parish and the World: Let Us Go Forth in Peace by Bishop Kallistos Ware

Healing in the Parish and the World:

Let Us Go Forth in Peace

by Bishop Kallistos Ware

Our theme is the liturgy after the Liturgy. Consider the word “peace” in the Divine Liturgy: In peace let us pray to the Lord, for the peace from above, and for the peace of the whole world; and also the meaning of the celebrant’s greeting, “Peace be with you all.” We know the priest is not just transmitting his own peace, but he is transmitting to the congregation the peace of Christ. And peace, we know, is a gift from God.

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There is one phrase from the Liturgy in which the word peace figures pro-minently: “Let us go forth in peace.” There are many commandments in the Liturgy, things that we are told to do such as “Lift up your hearts,” “Give thanks to the Lord.” But, “Let us go forth in peace” is the last commandment of the Liturgy. What does it mean? It means, surely, that the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy is not an end but a beginning. Those words, “Let us go forth in peace,” are not a comforting epilogue, they are a call to serve and bear witness. In effect, those words, “Let us go forth in peace,” mean the Liturgy is over, the liturgy after the Liturgy is about to begin.

This, then, is the aim of the Liturgy: that we should return to the world with the doors of our perceptions cleansed. We should return to the world after the Liturgy, seeing Christ in every human person, especially in those who suffer. In the words of Father Alexander Schmemann, the Christian is the one who, wherever he or she looks, sees Christ everywhere and rejoices in him. We are to go out, then, from the Liturgy and see Christ everywhere.

“I was hungry. I was thirsty. I was a stranger. I was in prison.” Of everyone who is in need, Christ says, “I.” Christ is looking at us through the eyes of all the people whom we meet, especially those who are in distress and who are suffering. We go out from the Liturgy, seeing Christ everywhere. But we are to return to the world not just with our eyes open but with our hands strengthened. I remember a hymn as an Anglican that we used to sing at the end of the Eucharist, “Strengthen for service, Lord, the hands that holy things have taken.” So, we are not only to see Christ in all human persons, but we are to serve Christ in all human persons.

Let us reflect on what happened at the Last Supper. First there was the Eucharistic meal, where Christ blessed bread and gave it to the disciples, “This is my body,” and he blessed the cup, “This is my blood.” Then, after the Eucharistic meal, Christ kneels and washes the feet of his disciples. The Eucharistic meal and the foot washing are a single mystery. So, we have to apply that to ourselves. We go out from the Liturgy to wash the feet of our fellow humans, literally and symbolically. That is how I understand the words at the end of the Liturgy, “Let us go forth in peace.” Peace is to be something dynamic within this broken world. It’s not just a quality that we experience within the church walls.

Let’s remind ourselves of the way in which St. John Chrysostom envisages this liturgy after the Liturgy. There are, he says, two altars. There is, in the first place, the altar in church, and towards this altar we show deep reverence. We bow in front of it. We decorate it with silver and gold. We cover it with precious hangings. But, continues St. John, there is another altar, an altar that we encounter every day, on which we can offer sacrifice at any moment. And yet towards this second altar, an altar which God himself has made, we show no reverence at all. We treat it with contempt. We ignore it. And what is this second altar? It is, says St. John Chrysostom, the poor, the suffering, those in need, the homeless, all who are in distress. At any moment, he says, when you go out from the church, there you will see an altar on which you can offer sacrifice, a living altar made by Christ.

Developing the meaning of the command, “Let us go forth in peace,” let us think of the Liturgy as a journey, Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s key image for the Liturgy. We may discern in the Liturgy a movement of ascent and of return. That kind of movement actually happens very frequently. We can see it in the lives of the saints, such as Antony of Egypt or Seraphim of Sarov. First, in the movement of ascent, if you like, or flight from the world, they go out into the desert, into the wilderness, into solitude, to be alone with God. But then there is a moment of return. They open their doors to the world, they receive all who come, they minister and they heal.

There is a similar movement of ascent within the Liturgy. We go to church. It’s pleasant to go there; though some people must use cars, I like to walk from my home to church before the Divine Liturgy, to walk alone if I can. It’s only about ten minutes, but I find it quite important to have that movement, a sense of going to church, a sense, if you like, of a separation from the world and starting on a journey. I walk to church, and I enter the church building, into a sacred space and sacred time. This is the beginning of the movement of ascent: we go to the church. Then, continuing the movement of ascent, we bring to the altar gifts of bread and wine and offer them to Christ. The movement of ascent is completed when Christ accepts this offering, consecrates it, makes the bread and wine to be his body and blood.

After the ascent comes the return. The bread and wine that we offered to Christ, he then gives back to us in Holy Communion as his body and blood.

But the movement of return doesn’t stop there. Having received Christ in the Holy Gifts, we then go out from the church, going back to the world to share Christ with all those around us.

Let’s develop this idea a little. Receiving Christ’s body, we become what he is. We become the body of Christ. But gifts are for sharing. We become Christ’s body not for ourselves but for others. We become Christ’s body in the world and for the world. So the Eucharist impels believers to specific action in society, action that will be challenging and prophetic. The Eucharist is the start of cosmic transfiguration, and each communicant shares in this transfiguring work.

Our title suggest a connection between peace and healing in the parish and the world, and I can’t possibly deal with all the things suggested by it. But let me, in light of the bit about “Let us go forth in peace,” pose a few questions about the different levels of Eucharistic healing and transfiguration in the world.

First a question about our parish life. Perhaps this is not true everywhere, but it’s true of some parishes I’ve known. I’ve often wondered why our parish council meetings, and more particularly the annual general meetings of parishes, are such a disappointment? To me it’s very surprising that often there’s a rather dark spirit at work in the annual general meetings of parishes. The picture given of our parish life is actually deeply misleading. All the good things seem to be hidden—perhaps that’s as it should be—but we get a very distorted picture. There seems often to be an atmosphere of tension and hostility at annual general meetings in parishes.

I’ve often wondered why that is. How to bring a truly Eucharistic spirit into such gatherings? How can we bring the peace of the Divine Liturgy into the other aspects of our parish life? I don’t have an easy answer, but I think behind this first question there lurks another question. How can we make the Divine Liturgy more manifestly a shared and corporate action? In my own experience, the parish where I am, we began worshiping just in a room, and at that time it was not difficult to have a very strong feeling of the Liturgy as a unified action in which everybody was sharing because we were all so close to one another, and there was only a few of us.

Some of the most moving Liturgies I’ve ever attended have not been in churches with great marble floors and huge candelabra but in small house chapels in a room or even in a garage. Now, gradually our community has grown. Twenty-five years ago, we built ourselves a church, and now that church is too small and we’re working towards enlarging the church in order to be able to have room for all the worshipers. Now that is, in a sense, encouraging, but there is a real struggle here. As a parish grows larger and as it acquires a larger building, it becomes much harder to preserve the corporate spirit, the sense of a single family, the sense of all of us doing something together. It becomes much harder to preserve that.

hristos-mirele-1
Christ the Prisoner

I haven’t any easy answers, but that is one level on which I ask, “How can we bring peace and healing into a community that’s growing ever larger, and therefore that is bound to lose its sense of close coherence, unless we struggle to preserve it?”

There is another level of healing that occurs to me quite frequently at the Divine Liturgy. We often have present non-Orthodox Christians and we are not able to give them Holy Communion by the rules of our Church. Now, I’m sure all of you have reflected on the reasons why the Orthodox Church takes this straight line over inter-communion. The act of Communion, we say, involves our total acceptance of the faith. It involves our total life in the Church. Therefore we cannot share in Communion with other Christians who—however much we may love them—we recognize as holding a different understanding of the Christian faith, and are therefore divided from us.

This is, we know, the argument why we cannot have inter-communion. But I think we should constantly ask ourselves if we are right to take this position? In fact I think we are, but I would say go on asking yourself in your heart if it’s the right thing to do. We Orthodox are becoming increasingly isolated on this issue. In my young days, most Anglicans would have taken the same view, and would have said they could not have Communion with Protestants. That’s certainly not the case now in the Anglican Church. Also, Roman Catholics held this view very strictly, but since Vatican II, whatever the official regulations may be, in the practice of the Roman Catholic Church there is widespread inter-communion. But we Orthodox continue as we were. Are we right? And if we do continue to uphold a strict line on inter-communion, in what spirit are we doing this? Is it in a spirit of peace and healing?

I remember at the beginning of my time as priest, the first occasion, and I still feel the wound inwardly, when persons came up for Communion whom I knew were not Orthodox. I felt that it was my duty as priest not to give them Communion. I was really interested in the reaction of two different parishioners. One said to me, “You did quite right! We cannot give Communion to these heretics. The Orthodox Church is the one true church.” He saw that in triumphalist terms. That made me feel even worse. But then another parishioner came up, and he said, in a very different tone of voice, “Yes, you were right, but how tragic, how sad, that we had to do this.” Then I thought, yes, we do have to do this, but we should never do it in an aggressive spirit of superiority but always with a sense of deep sorrow in our hearts. We should mind very much that we cannot yet have Communion together. Incidentally, both of those two parishioners are now Orthodox priests themselves. I think the first one, over the years, has grown a little less triumphalist. I hope we all do, but I’m not sure whether that always happens.

 

Homeless Christ
Homeless Christ

Then I’d like to reflect on a third level of healing. Let me take as my basis here the words said just before the Epiclesis, the invocation of the Holy Spirit, at the heart of the Liturgy. The deacon lifts the Holy Gifts, and the celebrant says, “Thine own from Thine own, we offer Thee.” And in usual translation, it continues, “in all and for all.” But that translation could be misleading. It could be understood as meaning “for all human persons, for everyone.” In fact in Greek, it is not masculine, it is neuter—“for in all things, and for all things.” At that moment, we do not just speak about human persons, we speak about all created things. A more literal translation would be, “In all things and for all things.”

This shows us that the liturgy after the Liturgy involves service not just to all persons, but ministry to the whole creation, to all created things. The Eucharist, thus, commits us to an ecological healing. That is underlined in the words of Fr. Lev: “Peace of the whole world.” It means, says Fr. Lev, peace not just for humans, but all creatures—for animals and vegetables, stars, for all nature. Cosmic piety and cosmic healing. Ecology has become mildly fashionable and often has quite strong political associations. We Orthodox, along with other Christians, must involve ourselves fully on behalf of the environment, but we must do so in the name of the Divine Liturgy. We must put our ecological witness in the context of Holy Communion.

I’m very much encouraged by the initiatives taken recently by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. Twenty some years ago, the then Ecumenical Patriarch Demetrios issued a Christmas encyclical saying that when we celebrate the Incarnation of Christ, his taking of a human body, we should also see that as God’s blessing upon the whole creation. We should understand the incarnation in cosmic terms. He goes on in his encyclical to call all of us to show, and I quote, “towards the creation an ascetic and Eucharistic spirit.” An ascetic spirit helps us distinguish between wants and needs. The real point being not what I want.

The real point, then, is what I need. I want a great many things that I don’t in fact need. The first step towards cosmic healing is for me to make a distinction between the two, and as far as possible, to stick just to what I need. People want more and more. That’s going to bring disaster on ourselves if we go on selfishly increasing our demands. But we don’t in fact need more and more to be truly human. That’s what I understand to define an ascetic spirit. Fasting indeed can help us to distinguish between what we want and what we need. Good to do without things, because then we realize that, yes, we can use them, but we can also forego them, we are not dependent on material things. We have freedom.

If we have a Eucharistic spirit, we realize all is a gift to be offered back in thanksgiving to God the Giver. Developing this theme, the Ecumenical Patriarch Demetrios, followed by his successor, the present Patriarch Bartholomew, have dedicated the first of September, the New Year in the Orthodox calendar, as a day of creation, when we give thanks to God for his gifts, when we ask forgiveness for the way we have misused those gifts, and when we pray that we may be guided for the right use of them in the future. There’s a phrase that often comes to my mind from the special service “When in danger of earthquake.” “The earth, though without words, yet cries aloud, ‘Why, all peoples, do you inflict upon me such evil?’” And we are inflicting great evil on the earth. Interesting to see earthquakes as the earth groaning because of what we do to it!

Finally, I ask you to think for a moment about one of our Gospel readings. What happens when the risen Christ on the first Easter Sunday appears to his disciples? Christ says first to the disciples, “Peace be unto you.” The first thing that Christ speaks after rising from the dead is peace. Then what does he do? He shows them his hands and his side. Why does he do that? For recognition. Yes, to show that here he is, the one whom they saw three days before crucified; here he is, risen from the dead in the same body in which he suffered and died. But there’s surely more to it than that. What he is doing is showing that, though he is risen from the dead, yet he still bears upon him the marks of his suffering. In the heart of the risen and glorified Christ, there is still a place for our human suffering. When Christ rises from the dead and ascends into heaven, he does not disengage himself from this broken world. On the contrary, he still carries on his body the marks of his suffering and he carries in his heart all our burdens. When he says before his ascension, “See I am with you, even to the end of the world,” surely he means, “I am with you in your distress and in your suffering.” Glorified, he is still with us. He has not rejected our suffering, nor disassociated himself from us.

We see from the Gospel how peace goes with cross bearing. Having given peace to his disciples, the risen Christ immediately shows them the marks of the Cross. Peace means healing and wholeness, but we have to add, peace also means vulnerability. Peace, we might say, doesn’t mean the absence of struggle or temptation or suffering. As long as we are in this world, we are to expect temptation and suffering. As St. Antony of Egypt said, “Take away temptation and nobody will be saved.” So peace doesn’t mean the absence of struggle, but peace means commitment, firmness of purpose, clarity of vision, an undivided heart, and a willingness to bear the burdens of others. When Paul says, “See, I bear in my body the marks, the stigmata, of Christ crucified,” he is describing his state of peace.  IC

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware is Titular Metropolitan of Diokleia under the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Metropolitan Ware lives in England. This essay was edited from a talk given at the Orthodox Peace Fellowship retreat in Vézelay, France in April 1999.

 

In Communion / Winter 2013

Forgive Us…as We Forgive: Forgiveness in the Psalms and the Lord’s Prayer, by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware

by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware of Diokleia

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, Metropolitan of Diokleia
Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, Metropolitan of Diokleia

Forgiveness in the Psalms: In order to deepen our appreciation of the mystery of forgiveness, let us turn both to the Old Testament and to the New; and let us consider how forgiveness is understood first in the Psalms and then in the Lord’s Prayer. Because of the central place that the Psalms have occupied in the liturgical life of the Church, in both the East and the West, the testimony that they bear to the meaning of forgiveness is particularly significant.

First, the Psalms contain a number of striking passages in which the worshipper pleads to God for forgiveness. The best known and most eloquent of these pleas is Psalm 51, “Have mercy upon me, O God, after Thy great goodness,” recited no less than four times daily in the Byzantine Divine Office: at the Midnight Service, Matins, the Third Hour, and Compline. Another such plea is Psalm 130, “Out of the deep …”:

If Thou, Lord, shouldest mark what is done amiss,
O Lord, who could abide it? (vs. 4)
The same urgent cry for forgiveness recurs in many other Psalms:
For Thy name’s sake, O Lord,
Be merciful to my sin, for it is great (Ps. 25:10)
Deliver me from all mine offences…;
Take Thy plague away from me (Ps. 39: 9, 11)
I said, “Lord, be merciful unto me;
Heal me, for I have sinned against Thee” (Ps. 41:4)
O remember not our past sins, but have mercy upon us, and that soon:
For we are come to great misery (Ps. 79:8)

These and similar passages of the Psalms make it abundantly clear how greatly we need the healing grace of divine forgiveness. Without God’s mercy we are helpless. It is also made clear that we have no claims upon God. Helpless as we are, we can do nothing to earn or deserve God’s mercy, nothing to oblige or constrain Him to forgive us. We can do no more than wait in patience and humility for His free gift of pardon. “I wait for the Lord, my soul doth wait for Him … A broken and contrite heart, O God, shalt Thou not despise” (Ps. 130:5; 51:17).

Second, the Psalms repeatedly insist that these pleas for divine forgiveness do not remain unheard. The Lord is a God of loving-kindness and tender love, ever eager to show mercy and grant healing. This is the theme in particular of Psalm 103, used daily at Matins in the Orthodox Church, and also regularly in the Divine Liturgy:

Praise the Lord, O my soul:
And all that is within me praise His holy name …
Who forgiveth all thy sin:
And healeth all thine infirmities …
The Lord is full of compassion and mercy:
Long-suffering and of great goodness …Like as a father hath compassion upon his children,
So hath the Lord compassion upon them that fear Him (vs. 1, 3, 8, 13).

In a memorable phrase, it is said that God covers our sin:
Blessed is he whose unrighteousness is forgiven:
Even he whose sin is covered (Ps. 32:1).

Elsewhere it is said that our sins are blotted out:
To Thee shall all flesh come to confess their sins:
When our misdeeds prevail against us, in Thy mercy do Thou blot them out (Ps. 65:2).

A leitmotif in the “historical” Psalms is the way in which, again and again in the story of salvation, the people of Israel have gone astray, and yet God in His faithful love has forgiven them (Ps. 78:38, 106:43-44, 107:13-16, cf. 85:1-3). God, it is said elsewhere, is like a shepherd who goes in search of a lost sheep (cf. Matt. 18:12; Luke 15:4):

I have gone astray like a sheep that is lost;
O seek thy servant, for I do not forget Thy commandments (Ps. 119:176).

Yet we are not presumptuously to take God’s forgiveness for granted, for His mercy goes hand in hand with His justice (cf. Rom. 11:22):

My song shall be of mercy and justice (Ps. 101:1).

Third, if we are in this way forgiven by God, then we in our turn are called to extend forgiveness to our fellow humans. This is not in fact affirmed in the Psalms very clearly or very frequently, but there are occasions in which it is at least implied, in the context of money-lending:

The ungodly borroweth and payeth not again:
But the righteous giveth and is bountiful …

The righteous is ever bountiful and lendeth:
And his children shall be blessed (Ps. 37:21, 26).

It is good for a man to be generous when he lendeth (Ps. 112:5).

This can perhaps be enlarged to include not only generosity over debts but other forms of remission and forgiveness. At the same time, a restriction has to be noted. We cannot grant forgiveness on behalf of others, in regard to offences that have been committed not against us but against them:

But no man may deliver his brother:
Nor pay a price unto God for him (Ps. 49:7).

Sadly, however, it has to be noted that there are grave limitations in the Psalms concerning the scope of forgiveness. If, as we have seen, there are only a few places where it is suggested that we should forgive others, there are unfortunately many other passages in which the Psalmist curses his enemies and prays for their destruction. God is invoked as a God of vengeance (Ps. 54:1; 94:1). We are to hate our enemies with a “perfect hatred” (Ps. 139:22). Particularly cruel is the punishment called down upon the daughter of Babylon:

Blessed shall he be that taketh thy children:
And throweth them against the stones (Ps. 137:9).

Most notably, Psalm 109 contains an imprecation daunting in its cruelty:
Let his days be few:
And let another seize his possessions.
Let his children be fatherless:
And his wife become a widow.
Let his children be vagabonds and beg their bread:
Let them be driven out even from their desolate places …
Let there be no man to pity him:
Or to have compassion upon his fatherless children (vs. 7-9, 11).

Such a passage does not stand alone: compare, for example, Ps. 83:9-17, 129:5-8, and 140:8-10. I have noted altogether over thirty passages in the Psalms asking God to inflict pain and suffering upon others, and this figure is almost certainly an underestimate. It is of course possible to explain away such passages by interpreting them symbolically, as referring not to our fellow human beings but to our evil thoughts or to the demons. But such was not their original intention.

Seventy Times Seven: When we turn, however, from the Old Testament to the New, we are at once impressed by a manifest and remarkable contrast. Nowhere in the Gospels does Christ instruct us to hate our enemies: He tells us, on the contrary, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). The law of retaliation is firmly abrogated: we are not to “resist an evildoer,” but to “turn the other cheek” (Matt. 5:39). There are to be no limits to our forgiveness: we are to forgive our brother “seven times a day” (Luke 17:4), and not only that, but “seventy times seven” (Matt. 18:22). We do not find such statements in the Psalms. Nor, indeed, do we find in the Psalms the statement that occupies such a prominent place in the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matt. 6:12). The Lord’s Prayer is comprehensive but extremely concise. If, then, in such a short prayer, nearly a quarter—no less than 13 words in the Greek text, out of 57—is devoted to the theme of forgiveness, this shows how crucially important it is in God’s sight that we should forgive and be forgiven.

This is certainly the view of Origen. If Christ places such strong emphasis upon forgiveness in the model prayer that He has given us, this is because there cannot be any true prayer at all unless it is offered in a forgiving spirit. St. Gregory of Nyssa goes so far as to claim that the clause “Forgive us … as we forgive” is the culminating point in the entire prayer; it constitutes “the very peak of virtue.” He adds, however, that—fundamental though the clause is—its true sense is not at all easy to grasp: “The meaning surpasses any interpretation in words.”

A valuable insight into the significance of forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer is provided by the literal sense of the verb “ forgive” in verse 12. The primary idea conveyed by this word is “let go,” “set aside,” “leave behind.” It denotes such things as release from captivity, the cancellation of a debt, or the remission of punishment. Unforgiving people grasp, retain, and hold fast; forgiving people let go. Yet, if we let go the memory of an offence, does this not suggest that we condone the evil that has been done? That, surely, cannot be the correct meaning of forgiveness. In the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, “Forgiveness does not mean condoning what has been done. It means taking what has happened seriously and not minimizing it.” To condone an evil is to pass over it, to ignore it, or else it is to pretend that it is not an evil, to treat it as if it were good. But to forgive is something altogether different. There can be no genuine forgiveness that is not truthful and realistic. Let us not practice any evasion. If an evil has been done, then this has to be frankly admitted.

Moreover, if the process of forgiveness is to be brought to full completion, the evil has to be frankly admitted by both sides, by aggressor as well as victim. It is true that, when we suffer wrong, we should endeavor to forgive the other immediately, without any delay, not waiting for the other to acknowledge the wrong. It was precisely in this spirit that Jesus prayed at His crucifixion, “Forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk. 23:24). If, however, the forgiveness is to come to proper interpersonal fulfillment, more is required. Forgiveness needs to be accepted as well as offered; and the one who admits no guilt can accept no forgiveness.

If forgiveness, in the sense of letting go, is not the same as condoning, should we say that to forgive is to forget? Shall we make King Lear’s words our own, “Pray you now, forget and forgive”? The answer seems to be yes and no. All depends on what we remember (or forget) and how we do so. Certainly there is no point in clinging to the memory of trivial misunderstandings and injuries. We should rather allow them to slip quietly away into oblivion, for we have better things with which to occupy our minds. There are, however, events in our personal lives, and in the lives of our communities, that are far too important simply to be forgotten. It would not be right to say to the members of the Armenian nation, “Forget the massacres of 1915,” or to the Jewish people, “Forget the Shoah in the Second World War.” These are matters that, for the sake of our shared humanity, none of us should forget, not least so as to ensure that such atrocities may never be allowed to happen again.

More decisive than what we remember is how we do so. We are not to remember in a spirit of hatred and recrimination, or for the sake of revenge. Dr Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, has rightly said: “Remember the past … but do not be held captive by it. Turn it into a blessing, not a curse; a source of hope, not humiliation.” Our memories are not to be repressed or negated, but at the same time they must be purified and healed. We need to remember, yet not self-righteously or with aggressive accusations, but in a spirit of compunction and mourning. We need to remember with love. But that is difficult.

Forgiveness, it can even be said, begins not with an act of forgetfulness, but with an act of mindfulness and self-knowledge. We have to recognize the harm that has been done, the wound that we or the other carry in our heart. Only after this moment of truthful recognition can we then begin to let go, not in the sense of consigning to oblivion, but in the sense of no longer being held prisoner by the memory. We must remember, but be free.

Responsible for everyone and everything: A dominant theme in the Patristic interpretation of the Lord’s Prayer is the unity of the human race. The early Fathers are in full agreement with the words of Julian of Norwich, “In the sight of God, all man is one man, and one man is all man.” They agree equally with John Donne “No man is an Island, entire of itself.” Our need to forgive and to be forgiven springs directly from the fact that we are all of us interdependent, members of a single human family. Indeed, this insistence upon coinherence is to be seen, not only in the clause “Forgive us … as we forgive,” but in the Lord’s Prayer as a whole. St. Cyprian of Carthage notes how the prepositions in the Prayer are consistently in the plural, not the singular: not “my” but “our,” not “me” but “us.”

We do not say “My Father who art in heaven,” or “Give me this day my bread,” nor does each one ask that only his own debt be remitted, nor does he request for himself alone that he may not be led into temptation or may be delivered from the evil one. Prayer with us is public and common, and when we pray, we do not pray for one person but for the whole people, because the whole people are one.

This perception of our human unity, in Cyprian’s view, has its foundation in the Christian doctrine of God. We believe in God the Trinity, who is not only one but one-in-three, not only personal but interpersonal. We believe in the communion of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and so we human beings are saved, not in isolation, but in communion one with another.

This unity that marks us out as human persons, while underlined throughout the Lord’s Prayer, is particularly evident in the clause concerning forgiveness. In the words of Clement of Alexandria, when we say “Forgive us … as we forgive,” we are proclaiming that “all humankind is the work of one Will.” This is a point emphasized by St. Maximos the Confessor in his commentary on the Lord’s Prayer. Unity and mutual love, he says, constitute “the principle (logos) of nature” by which we human beings have been created. When, therefore, we pray for forgiveness, we are bringing our human will into harmony with the logos of our nature. Conversely, to withhold forgiveness is to “sunder human nature by separating ourselves from our fellow humans, even though we are ourselves human.” Our refusal to live in union with each other through mutual forgiveness is therefore self-destructive: “Failing such union, our nature remains self-divided in its will and cannot receive God’s divine and ineffable gift of Himself.”

St. Gregory of Nyssa likewise sees the refusal of forgiveness as self-destructive: “In condemning your neighbor, you thereby condemn yourself.” Giving a wide-ranging application to the notion of human unity, Gregory maintains that it extends through time as well as space. When saying “Forgive us” in the Lord’s Prayer, we are asking forgiveness not only for our own personal sins but also for the debts that are common to our nature, and more particularly for the ancestral sin that the whole human race inherits from Adam. Even if we keep ourselves free from personal sins—in fact, as Gregory comments, none of us can claim this of ourselves, even for an hour—we would still need to say “Forgive us” on behalf of Adam:

Adam lives in us … and so we do well to make use of these words Forgive us our trespasses. Even if we were Moses or Samuel or someone else of pre-eminent virtue, we would nonetheless regard these words as appropriate to ourselves, since we are human; we share in Adam’s nature and therefore share also in his fall. Since, then, as the Apostle says, “we all die in Adam” (1 Cor. 15:22), these words that suitably express Adam’s penitence are likewise appropriate for all those who have died with him.

A similar line of thought is found in St. Mark the Monk. In his opinion, we are called to repent not only “for our own sin” but also “for the sin of transgression,” that is to say, for the ancestral sin of Adam. Repentance is vicarious: The saints are required to offer repentance not only on their own behalf but also on behalf of their neighbor, for without active love they cannot be made perfect … In this way the whole universe is held together in unity, and through God’s providence we are each of us assisted by one another.

Even though there is no explicit reference here to the Lord’s Prayer, Mark’s line of argument can surely be applied to the petition “Forgive us … as we forgive.” If we can repent for the sins of others, then we can and should also ask forgiveness on their behalf. The principle of mutual solidarity applies equally in both cases: “we are each of us assisted by one another.” No one is forgiven and saved in isolation.

These statements by Gregory and Mark fall far short of a fully developed theology of original guilt, such as we find in St. Augustine. Mark specifically excludes the view that, in a juridical sense, we are guilty of Adam’s sin, considered as an act of personal choice. Yet, on a level more profound than legal culpability, there exists a mystical solidarity that unites us all one to another; and it is of this that Gregory and Mark are speaking. “All man is one man,” and so we are each “responsible for everything and everyone,” to use the phrase of Dostoevsky’s Starets Zosima. Even if we are not personally guilty, nevertheless we bear the burden of what Adam and all the other members of the human family have done. They live in us, and we in them. Here as always the vital word is we, not I. None of us falls alone, for we drag each other down; and none of us is forgiven and saved alone. Forgiveness is not solitary but social.

How far can the notion of vicarious forgiveness be legitimately extended? Can I forgive or accept forgiveness on behalf of others? So far as asking forgiveness is concerned, it is surely reasonable to request forgiveness on behalf of others, when those others are joined to me in some way, for example by kinship, nationhood, or religious allegiance. If, tracing back our ancestry, we become aware that our family tree is tainted with unresolved tensions and alienation, we can and should pray for the forgiveness and healing of our forebears. By the same token, the descendant of a slave-trader might rightly feel impelled to ask forgiveness in his heart—and perhaps by some external gesture as well—from the families of those whom his ancestor took captive and sold into bondage. Pope John Paul II acted as a true Christian when, during the visit of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I to Rome in June 2004, he asked the Patriarch’s forgiveness for the sack of Constantinople by the Latin Crusaders eight hundred years previously. How I long for an Orthodox Church leader to ask forgiveness in the same way from the Catholics, for the many evils that we Orthodox have inflicted upon them! And all of us, Orthodox and Catholics alike, have to seek forgiveness from the Jews, God’s Chosen People, for the heavy sins that, over the centuries, we have committed against them.

Have we the right, however, not only to ask forgiveness on behalf of others, but also to offer it on their behalf? Here there is reason for us to be much more hesitant. For myself, I agree with the late Rabbi Albert Friedlander, and with Psalm 49:9, that one cannot forgive offences that have not been committed against oneself. It would be inappropriate, and indeed presumptuous, for me as a non-Jew to claim authority to forgive the suffering inflicted upon the Jews during the Shoah in the Second World War. It is not for me but for the Jews themselves to decide how those sufferings should be remembered, and how and when they should be forgiven. In the Lord’s Prayer, we do not say, “… as we forgive those who have trespassed against others,” but “… as we forgive those who have trespassed against us.”

Issuing an Order to God: What light do the Fathers shed upon the central word in the forgiveness petition—indeed, the most puzzling word in the whole of the Lord’s Prayer—the word “as” in “Forgive us … as we forgive”? “No word in English,” states Charles Williams, “carries a greater possibility of terror than the little word “as” in that clause; it is the measuring rod of the heavenly City, and the knot of the new union. But also it is the key of hell and the knife that cuts the knot of union.” Truly it is a hazardous prayer. We dare to apply to ourselves with unmitigated rigor the principle laid down by Christ “The measure you give will be the measure you get” (Matt. 7:2). “What you do,” warned St. Cyprian, “that you will also yourself suffer.” As St. John Chrysostom put it, “We ourselves have control over the judgment that is to be passed upon us.”

Not only is it a hazardous request to God but also a very strange one. It is as if we were issuing an order to God and instructing Him how to act. “If I do not forgive others,” we are saying to Him, “then do You withhold forgiveness from me.” Nowhere else in the Lord’s Prayer do we issue orders in this way. St. Gregory of Nyssa attempts to spell out the paradox in terms of what may be called “mimetic inversion.” Under normal circumstances, he observes, it is we who are called to imitate God; as St. Paul said, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). This is particularly the case when we forgive others. Since in the last resort, God alone has the power to forgive sins (Mark 2:7), it is only possible for us to forgive others if we imitate God. We cannot genuinely forgive, that is to say, unless we have been taken up into God and have ourselves “in some sense become God,” in Gregory’s phrase. The one who forgives needs to be “deified” or “divinized”; there can be no effective forgiveness without theosis. That is the normal pattern. But in the case of the Lord’s Prayer—and Gregory admits this is a “bold thing” to say—the customary order is reversed. On this occasion, we serve as an example to God. Instead of ourselves imitating Him, we are telling Him to imitate us: “What I have done, do You likewise; imitate Your servant, O Lord …. I have forgiven; do You forgive. I have shown great mercy to my neighbor; imitate my loving-kindness, You who are by nature loving-kind.”

Yet, in this clause “Forgive us … as we forgive,” precisely how strong a sense should be attached to the conjunction “as”? Should it be understood as causative, proportionate, or conditional?

Is the sense causative? In that case, we are saying to God, “Forgive us because we forgive”; our forgiveness causes His. This is indeed the way some Patristic authors interpreted the phrase. Clement of Alexandria suggested that, by forgiving others, we somehow compel God to forgive us. Yet a causative interpretation of this kind presents grave difficulties. As Calvin has rightly insisted, forgiveness comes from the “free mercy” of God. It is an unmerited gift of divine grace, conferred solely through Christ’s Cross and Resurrection; it is never something that we can earn or deserve. God acts with sovereign liberty, and we have no claims upon Him. As Paul affirmed, quoting the Pentateuch: “For God says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who shows mercy” (Rom. 9:15-16; cf. Exod. 33:19). This is rendered abundantly clear in Christ’s parable concerning the laborers in the vineyard: to those who complain about their wages, the master replies, “Have I not the right to do as I choose with what is my own?” (Matt. 20:15). Moreover, the initiative rests with God and not with us. He does not wait for us to forgive others before He extends His forgiveness to us. On the contrary, His act of free and unrestricted forgiveness precedes any act of forgiveness on our part: “God proves His love for us, in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).

If the word “as” cannot be causative, is it proportionate? Does it signify “to the same degree,” “according to the same measure”? Once more, this can hardly be the true sense. Between our forgiveness and God’s, there can be no common measure. He forgives with a fullness and generosity far beyond our wildest imagining: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, says the Lord” (Isa. 55:8). The transcendent and incomparable character of divine forgiveness is underlined in another Matthaean parable, that of the two debtors (Matt. 18:23-35). In relation to God, we are like the slave who owed ten thousand talents (a talent being equivalent to more than fifteen years’ wages received by a laborer), whereas in relation to each other we are like the slave who owed a hundred denarii (a denarius being the usual day’s wage for a laborer). Even St. Gregory of Nyssa, after suggesting that in His act of forgiveness God is imitating us, at once goes on to qualify this by asserting that our sins against God are immeasurably heavier than any sins by others against us. Later he refers for confirmation precisely to the parable of the two debtors.

If, then, our forgiveness is neither the cause nor the measure of God’s forgiveness, what further alternative remains? There exists a third possibility: it is the condition. Forgiveness is indeed unmerited, but it is not unconditional. God for His part is always overwhelmingly eager to forgive. This divine eagerness is movingly expressed in the story of the Prodigal Son (Lk. 15 : 11-32), which is read at the Orthodox Liturgy on the Sunday two weeks before the Sunday of Forgiveness. The father does not simply sit and wait passively for his son to return home. We are to imagine him standing day after day outside his house, anxiously scanning the horizon in the forlorn hope that at long last he may catch sight of a familiar figure. Then, as soon as the prodigal comes into view, while he is still far off, the father rushes out to meet his son, embracing and kissing him, and inviting him into the feast. Such is God’s great willingness to forgive us and to welcome us home. Later in the story the father again goes out, this time in the hope of persuading his elder son to come and share the feast. This double going-out on the part of the loving father is of primary significance if we are to appreciate the quality of divine mercy.

Yes, indeed, God is always eager to forgive—far more than we are to repent. In the words of St. Isaac the Syrian, “There exists in Him a single love and compassion that is spread out over all creation, a love that is without alteration, timeless, and everlasting.” Calling to mind Christ’s agony in the garden of Gethsemane and His death on the Cross, we ask ourselves: What more could God incarnate have done to win us back to Himself, that He has not done? Forgiveness, however, has not only to be offered but to be accepted. God knocks at the door of the human heart (Rev. 3:20), but He does not break the door down: we for our part have to open it.

Here precisely we find the true meaning of the word “as” in the Lord’s Prayer. It is not that God is unwilling to forgive us. But if, despite God’s unfailing eagerness to forgive, we on our side harden our hearts and refuse forgiveness to others, then quite simply we render ourselves incapable of receiving the divine forgiveness. Closing our hearts to others, we close them also to God; rejecting others, we reject Him. If we are unforgiving, then by our own act, we place ourselves outside the interchange of healing love. God does not exclude us; it is we who exclude ourselves.

Our forgiveness of others, then, is not the cause of God’s forgiveness towards us, but it is certainly the condition without which God’s forgiveness cannot pass within us. Divine pardon is indeed a free gift that we can never earn. What concerns us here, however, is not merit but capacity. Our relation to God and our relation to our fellow humans are strictly interdependent. As St. Silouan of Mount Athos affirmed, “Our brother is our life.” This is true not in a sentimental but in an ontological sense. Love for God and love for neighbor are not two loves but one.

“Forgive us … as we forgive”: when we say these words, so Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh has rightly cautioned us, “we take our salvation into our own hands.”

Four Words of Counsel: As we begin to cross the Red Sea of forgiveness, let us remind ourselves of certain practical guidelines.

Do not delay, but do not be in haste. Do not delay: the time for forgiveness is always now. Maximize the moment. The devil’s weapons are nostalgia and procrastination: he tells us “Too late” or “Too soon.” But, where the devil says “Yesterday” or “Tomorrow,” the Holy Spirit says “Today.”

We are not to think within ourselves, “First, I will change for the better; then I will be ready to forgive.” Still less are we to think (what is far worse), “First, I will wait to see whether the other is really sorry for the wrong that he has done, and whether he has really changed for the better; then I will decide whether to forgive him.” Let us, on the contrary, be like the loving father in the story of the prodigal. Let us take the initiative and run out to meet the other. Forgiveness has to come first; it is the cause of the change in ourselves and in others, not the effect. To adapt a phrase of the Romanian Orthodox theologian Fr. Dumitru Staniloae, “In so far as I am not forgiven, I am unintelligible to myself.”

Yet there is another side to the question. Forgive now, in your heart; but in your outward actions do not be overhasty. Forgiveness signifies healing, and healing often takes time. Premature requests for forgiveness can make the situation worse. If we force ourselves upon the other, before seeking through imaginative empathy to discover what the other is thinking and feeling, we may widen rather than bridge the gulf that separates us. Without putting things off, often we need to pause—not with passive indifference but waiting with alertness upon God—until the kairos, the moment of opportunity, has become clear. Emperor Augustus was right: Festina lente.

Forgive the other, but also be willing to accept the forgiveness that the other is offering to us. It is hard to forgive; but often it is even harder to acknowledge that we ourselves need to be forgiven. Let us be humble enough to accept the gift of another’s pardon. As Charles Williams wisely observed, “Many reconciliations have unfortunately broken down because both parties have come prepared to forgive and unprepared to be forgiven.”

Forgive others, but also forgive yourself. Have we not sometimes said, or heard others say, “I will never forgive myself for that”? Yet how can we accept forgiveness from others, if we will not forgive ourselves? In the words again of Charles Williams, by remaining in this state of “half-anger, half-anguish,” we create for ourselves “a separate hell.” Judas regretted what he had done, but in his case self-knowledge brought him not to fresh hope but to despair; unable to accept God’s forgiveness, and therefore unable to forgive himself, he went out and committed suicide (Matt. 27: 3-5). Peter on the other hand took a different path. Brought to self-knowledge by the crowing of the cock, he wept bitter tears of remorse; yet this remorse did not reduce him to despair. Rather, seeing the risen Christ at the lakeside, he did not turn away from Him into a “separate hell,” but drew near with hope. Accepting Christ’s forgiveness, forgiving himself, he began anew (Matt. 26:75; Jn. 21:15-19).

Pray. If we cannot yet find within our heart the possibility of forgiving the other, then let us at least pray for them. In the words of St. Silouan, “If you will pray for your enemies, peace will come to you.” Let us ask God that we may not make the other’s burden more heavy, that we may not be to them a scandal and a cause of stumbling. And if, as we pray, we cannot yet bring ourselves to the point of actually forgiving, then let us ask God that we may experience at least the desire and longing to forgive. There are situations in which truly to want something is already to attain it. Like the man who brought his sick child to Christ and cried out, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9 : 24), let us also cry out with tears: “Lord, I forgive; help my unforgivingness.” Slowly, gradually, there will come at last the moment when we are able to remember with love.

By invoking God’s help in prayer and by admitting our own helplessness, we are reminded of the all-important truth that forgiveness is a divine prerogative. It is not simply our action, but the action of God in us. To forgive, in a full and genuine sense, we need to be “in God.” “It is God who has shone in our hearts … the all-surpassing power is from Him and not from us” (2 Cor. 4 : 6-7). This all-surpassing power of God is communicated to us above all through the mysteries or sacraments of the Church; and, in the Patristic interpretation of “Our Father,” at least two of these mysteries are mentioned implicitly in the course of the Prayer. When we say, “Give us today our daily bread,” we are to think not of material bread alone but of the bread from heaven, the Eucharist . Then, in the petition that follows, “Forgive us … as we forgive,” we are to recall the forgiveness of sins that we have received in Holy Baptism. The Lord’s Prayer, according to St. Augustine, is in this way a continual renewal of Baptism: reciting the words that Christ has given us, “daily we are washed clean.” Our forgiveness, then, does not depend merely upon our feelings, or upon the decision of our will. It has an objective basis in the sacrament of our baptismal washing.

Flying Kites: After Orthodox Christians have knelt before each other at the Vespers of Forgiveness, asking and granting pardon, what do they do on the next day, the first day of Lent, known as “Clean Monday” (Kathara Devtera)? In many places it is still the custom to go out on the hills and have a picnic; and on this, the first open-air festival of the year, both children and grown-ups fly kites in the spring breeze. Such can also be our inner experience when we begin to forgive one another. To forgive is to enter spiritual springtime. It is to emerge from gloom into the sunlight, from self-imprisonment into the liberty of the open air. It is to ascend the hills, to let the wind blow on our faces, and to fly noetic kites, the kites of imagination, hope, and joy.

As his son said of the priest Papastavros, “He is free because he forgives.” IC

This article is the second of a two part series. The first part appeared in the Fall 2011 issue. The entire essay was presented as a paper by Met. Kallistos at the Orthodox Peace Fellowship Study Day in Amsterdam in 2010 and will soon be made available by the Orthodox Peace Fellowship in booklet form (the booklet will include all footnotes that are part of the original paper). It appears as a chapter in a book of essays by several authors called Meditations of the Heart: The Psalms in Early Christian Thought and Practice. Essays in Honour of Andrew Louth. The book was published by Brepols Publishers in August, 2011.

❖ IN COMMUNION / issue 63 / Winter 2012

Forgive Us…as We Forgive: Forgiveness in the Psalms and the Lord’s Prayer by Met. Kallistos Ware

by Met. Kallistos Ware, Metropolitan of Diokleia

And throughout all Eternity I forgive you, you forgive me.As our dear Redeemer said:“This the Wine, and this the Bread.”—William BlakeThe stupid neither forgive nor forget; the naïve forgive and forget; the wise forgivebut do not forget.—Thomas Szasz

HE IS FREE because he forgives. In the book by Kevin Andrews, The Flight ofIkaros, there is a story that sums up the essence of forgiveness. Andrewswas studying medieval fortresses in Greece. The year was 1949. He wastraveling through a land devastated by the German occupation during the SecondWorld War and cruelly divided by the post-war struggle between Communists andanti-Communists that had only just drawn to a close. Arriving one evening in a village,he was given hospitality by the parish priest Papastavros. The priest’s house had beenburned down, and so he received his guest in the shed that was now his home.

Gradually Andrews learnt the priest’s story. His two eldest sons had joined theResistance during the German occupation. But, some villagers betrayed their hidingplace: They were captured and never seen again. About the same time, his wife diedfrom starvation. After the Germans had left, Papastavros was living alone with oneof his married daughters and her baby son. She was expecting her second child in afew weeks. One day he returned home to find his house in flames, set on fire byCommunist partisans. “I was in time,” he recounted to Andrews, “to see them dragmy daughter out and kill her; they shot all their bullets into her stomach. Then theykilled the little boy in front of me.”

Those who did these things were not strangers coming from a distance, but theywere local people. Papastavros knew exactly who they were, and he had to meetthem daily. “I wonder how he has not gone mad,” one of the village women remarkedto Andrews. But the priest did not in fact lose his sanity. On the contrary, he spoketo the villagers about the need for forgiveness. “I tell them to forgive, and that thereexists no other way,” he said to Andrews. Their response, he added, was to laugh inhis face. When, however, Andrews talked with the priest’s one surviving son, thelatter did not laugh at his father, but spoke of him as afree man: “He is free because he forgives.”

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware
Metropolitan Kallistos Ware

Two phrases stand out in this account: “There exists no other way,” and “He is freebecause he forgives.” There exists no other way. Certain human situations are socomplex and intractable, so fraught with anguish, that there exists only one way outbut to forgive. Retaliation makes the problem worse, as Mahatma Gandhi observed, “An eye for an eye leavesthe whole world blind.” Solely through forgiveness can we break the chain of mutualreprisal and self-destroying bitterness. Without forgiveness, there can be no hopeof a fresh start. So Papastavros found, faced by the tragedies of enemy occupationand civil war. Surely his words apply also to many other situations of conflict, notleast in the Holy Land.

He is free because he forgives. In the words of the Russian Orthodox starets StSilouan of Mount Athos (1866-1938), “Where there is forgiveness…there is freedom.”If only we can bring ourselves to forgive—if we can at least want to forgive—thenwe shall find ourselves in what the Psalms call a “spacious place” or “a place ofliberty”: “We went through fire and water, but Thou broughtest us out into a placeof liberty” (Psalm 66:12). Forgiveness means release from a prison in which all thedoors are locked on the inside. Only through forgiveness can we enter into what StPaul terms “the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom. 8:21).

Yet how hard, how painfully hard, it is to forgive and to be forgiven! To quoteanother Russian Orthodox witness, Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh (1914-2003),“Forgiveness is not a little brook on the boundary between slavery and freedom: Ithas breadth and depth, it is the Red Sea.” “Do not think that you have acquired virtue,”said the Desert Father Evagrius of Pontus (346-99), “unless you have struggled for itto the point of shedding your blood.” The same can be said of forgiveness. Sometimesthe struggle to forgive is indeed nothing less than an inner martyrdom, to the pointof shedding our blood.

FORGIVENESS SUNDAY IN the Orthodox Church: How shall we set out in ourexodus across the “Red Sea” of forgiveness? Let us consider first the way inwhich the Orthodox Church offers to its members an annual opportunity tomake a fresh start on what is known as “The Sunday of Forgiveness.” This will leadus to look more closely at forgiveness in the Psalms and especially in the Lord’s Prayer.What, we may ask, is the meaning of the Greek verb aphimi used in the Lord’s Prayerfor forgive, “let go”? Does this mean that to forgive is to condone, or at any rate toforget? Next, taking as our guide the early Fathers, we shall see how the phrase“Forgive us…as we forgive” underlines the fundamental unity of the human race.Finally, we shall try to appreciate what is signified by the word “as” in the forgivenessclause of the Lord’s Prayer: “…as we forgive.” Why should the scope of God’sforgiveness be seemingly restricted by my own willingness to forgive? We shall endwith four practical guidelines.

The Sunday of Forgiveness occurs immediately before the seven-week Fast of Lent,the “Great Fast” in preparation for the “Feast of Feasts,” the Lord’s Resurrection atPascha. The human animal, it has been said, is not only an animal that thinks, ananimal that laughs and weeps, but much more profoundly an animal that expressesitself through symbolic actions. With good reason, then, the Orthodox Church affordsits members the chance each year to externalize their longing for forgiveness,through a liturgical rite that is both corporate and personal.

On the morning of Forgiveness Sunday, the appointed Gospel reading isMatthew 6:14-21, beginning with Christ’s words, “If you forgive others theirtrespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgiveothers, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Then in the evening, atthe end of Vespers, there comes a ceremony of mutual pardon. Usually the priest gives a homily, concluding with anappeal to his flock to forgive him for all his mistakes and shortcomings in the pastyear. Then he comes down the sanctuary steps to the floor of the nave where thepeople are standing, for there can be no genuinely mutual forgiveness unless I putmyself on the same level as the other. Kneeling before the congregation, he says,“Forgive me, a sinner.” The people likewise kneel before the priest, answering,“May God forgive you. Forgive us.” To this the priest responds “God will forgive,” or “MayGod forgive and bless us all.” After that the people come up one by one to the priest,and each kneels before him as he in turn kneels before each of them; and theyexchange the same words, “Forgive me….God will forgive.” Then, having first kneltbefore the priest, the members of the congregation go around the church kneelingbefore one another, each asking and granting pardon. All this, for obvious reasons,is easier to carry out if, as in traditional Orthodox practice, the church is not clutteredup with pews.

There is of course a danger that a ceremony such as this may become over-emotional, in which case the results will probably prove ephemeral. Forgiveness,after all, is not a feeling but an action. It involves not primarily our emotions but ourwill. It is a decision, which then requires to be given practical effect. There is alsothe opposite danger that some worshippers, growing accustomed to this ceremonyyear by year, will go through it in a manner that is merely formal and automatic.

Ritual can all too easily become ossified.Nevertheless, when full allowance has been made for the dangers of emotionalismand formalism, it remains true that for very many Orthodox Christians, this annualservice of mutual pardon is deeply healing. On the basis of my personal experience,after more than forty years of pastoral work in a parish, I can testify that again andagain it has a transfiguring effect upon relationships within the local church family.It is an occasion that many of our people approach with the utmost seriousness. Letus not underestimate the power of ritual. Even if there are times when it becomesossified, on other occasions it can and does act as a potent catalyst, enabling us togive expression to what would otherwise remain unacknowledged and repressed.Those too hesitant or embarrassed to call at one another’s homes and embark on alengthy verbal explanation can make a new beginning within the framework of sharedprayer. The Vespers of Forgiveness serves in this way as a genuine breakthrough, thesudden vision of a fresh landscape.

The burden of unhappy memories means, not surprisingly, that the Vespers ofForgiveness is somewhat subdued and somber. We cry out in sorrow, “Turn not awayThy face from Thy servant, for I am in trouble. Hear me speedily, hearken unto mysoul and deliver it.” Yet, along with sorrow, there is also a note of glad expectation.“Let us set out with joy upon the season of the Fast,” we sing in one of the hymns,and a little later we add, “Thy grace has shone forth and given light to our souls.” Asthe mutual pardon is being exchanged between priest and people, in many churchesthe choir sings the Resurrection hymns that will be used seven weeks later at Paschalmidnight—to forgive is to rise again from the dead. St John Climacus, abbot of MountSinai in the seventh century—whose book The Ladder of Divine Ascent is speciallyappointed for reading in Lent—has a phrase that exactly describes the spirit of theVespers of Forgiveness: charopoion penthos, meaning “mourning that causes gladness”or “joy-creating sorrow.”

Sometimes people have told me that they find the phrase commonly used at theservice, “Forgive me….God will forgive” to be problematic and even evasive. Surely,they object, when someone asks for forgiveness, it is not enough for us to assurethem that they are forgiven by God, for they already know that. What is required isthat we should forgive them. This, however, is to overlook an essential point.Forgiveness is first and foremost a divine act, for “Who can forgive sins but Godalone?” (Mark 2:7). If, then, I am to forgive someone else, and the other person is toforgive me, in the last resort this is possible only in so far as we are both of us inGod. More specifically, we are able to forgive each other solely because we are bothof us already forgiven by God. Our forgiveness is rooted in His, and is impossiblewithout it, for “Apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

Since, therefore, forgiveness is not primarily our human action but a divine actionin which we humans participate, it is vitally important that in the process of mutualforgiveness, we should allow space for God to operate. At the beginning of theEucharistic service in the Orthodox Church, the Divine Liturgy, the deacon says to thepriest, “It is time for the Lord to act” (see Psalm 119:126), thereby affirming that thetrue celebrant at the Holy Mysteries is not the priest but Christ Himself. The phraseapplies equally to our mutual forgiveness. Here, too, it needs to be said, “It is timefor the Lord to act.” Our attempts at reconciliation often fail precisely because we relytoo much upon ourselves and do not leave proper scope for the action of the Lord.With St. Paul we need to say, “not I, but Christ in me” (Gal. 2:20). Such, then, is thespirit in which we reply at the Vespers of Forgiveness, “God will forgive.”

(This was the first part of a three part series. The next two parts will appear inin the next two issues. We are seeking permission to print the whole article as a booklet,which we will produce after the third part is published. The entire essay was presented as apaper by Met. Kallistos at the Orthodox Peace Fellowship Study Day in Amsterdam last year.It appears as a chapter in a book of essays by several authors called Meditations of the Heart:The Psalms in Early Christian Thought and Practice. Essays in Honor of Andrew Louth. Thebook was published by Brepols Publishers in August, 2011.)


❖ IN COMMUNION / issue 62 / October 2011

 

I Love, Therefore I Am

By Metropolitan Kallistos Ware

Most of the time we think we know who we are. But do we, in fact, know in the full and profound sense who we are?

One text that is very important for the Orthodox understanding of the human person is Psalm 64:6 [LXX 63:7]: “The heart is deep.” That means the human person is a profound mystery. There are depths or if you would like, heights within myself of which I have very little understanding.

Who am I? The answer is not at all obvious. My personhood as a human being ranges widely over space and time. And indeed it reaches out beyond space into infinity, and beyond time into eternity. Our human personhood is created, but it transcends the created order. I am called to be a “partaker of the divine nature,” as Peter said in his second letter. I am called to share, that is to say, in the uncreated energies of the living God. Our human vocation is theosis deification, divinization. As St. Basil the Great says, “The human being is a creature that is called to become God.”

I am reminded of the story of the Fall at the beginning of Genesis, of the promise of the serpent, who says to Eve, “You shall be as God.” The irony behind that story is that this was exactly the divine intention. The humans were indeed called to divine life. But the Fall consisted in the fact that Adam and Eve grasped with self-will that which God, in His own time and way, would have conferred upon them as a gift.

The limits of our personhood are very wide-ranging indeed. We should adopt a dynamic view of what it is to be a person. We shouldn’t think that our personhood is something fixed. To be a person is to grow. To be on a journey. And this journey is a journey that has no limits, that stretches out forever, that goes on even in heaven. Some people have an idea of heaven as a place where you do nothing in particular. But surely that is deceptive. Surely heaven means that we continue to advance by God’s mercy from glory to glory. Heaven is an end without end.

St. Irenaeus remarks, “Even in the age to come God will always have new things to teach us, and we shall always have new things to learn.” Even in heaven, we shall never be in a position to say to God, “You are repeating Yourself. We have heard it all before.” On the contrary, heaven means continuing wonder and unending discovery. To quote J.R.R. Tolkien in The Fellowship of the Ring, “The Road goes ever on and on.”

Now there is a specific reason for this mysterious and indefinable character of human personhood. And this reason is given to us by St. Gregory of Nyssa, writing in the fourth century. “God,” says he, “is a mystery beyond all understanding.” We humans are formed in God’s image. The image should reproduce the characteristics of the archetype, of the original. So if God is beyond understanding, then the human person formed in God’s image is likewise beyond understanding. Precisely because God is a mystery, I too am a mystery.

Now in mentioning the image, we’ve come to the most important factor in our humanness. Who am I? As a human person, I am formed in the image of God. That is the most significant and basic fact about my personhood. We are God’s living icons. Each of us is a created expression of God’s infinite and uncreated self-expression. So this means it is impossible to understand the human person apart from God. Humans cut off from God are no longer authentically human. They are subhuman.

If we lose our sense of the divine, we lose equally our sense of the human. And that we can see very clearly from the story, for example, of Soviet communism in the 70 years which followed the revolution of 1917. Soviet communism sought to establish a society where the existence of God would be denied and the worship of God would be suppressed and eliminated. At the same time, Soviet communism showed an appalling disregard for the dignity of the human person.

Those two things go together. Whoever affirms the human also affirms God. Whoever denies God also denies the human person. The human being cannot be properly understood except with reference to the divine. The human being is not autonomous, not self-contained. I do not contain my meaning within myself. As a person in God’s image, I point always beyond myself to the divine realm.

I remember a visit in my student years in Oxford from Archimandrite Sophrony, the disciple of St. Silouan of Mt. Athos. He gave a talk on Orthodoxy, and there was a discussion afterwards. Towards the end, the chairman said, “We have time for just one more question.” Somebody got up at the back of the audience and said, “Fr. Sophrony, please tell us what is God?”

Fr. Sophrony answered very briefly, “You tell me what is man?” God and the human person are two mysteries that are interconnected, and neither can be understood apart from the other. “In the image of God” means there’s a vertical reference in our personhood. We can only be understood in terms of our link with the divine.

But then, let’s think of another point. “In the image of God” means in the image of the Trinity. As St. Gregory the Theologian says, “When I say God, I mean Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” That is what as Christians we mean by God. We don’t understand God as a series of abstractions. We understand God as three Persons. And that we see very clearly from the Creed. We begin in the Creed by saying, “I believe in One God.” And then we don’t continue by saying, “Who is an uncaused cause, who is primordial reality, who is the ground of being.” This is the way many modern theologians speak. But in the Creed we say, “I believe in One God … the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” We continue, that is to say, in specific personal terms.

God for us is Trinity. And if we’re in the image of God we’re in the image of the Triune God. What does that mean for our understanding of our personhood? Let’s think first of the Trinity, and then of ourselves.

“God is love” declares St. John in his first letter, and goes on to say, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear.” In true love there is no exclusiveness, no jealousy. True love is open, not closed. God is love. There is no fear in love. And so God is not the love of one. God is not love in the sense of being self-love, turned in upon itself. God is not a closed unit. God is not a unit, but a union. God is love in the sense of shared love, the mutual love of three Persons in one.

When the Cappadocian Fathers in the fourth century are describing God, one of their key words is koinonia, meaning fellowship, communion, or relationship. As St. Basil says in his work on the Holy Spirit, “The union of the Godhead lies in the koinonia, the interrelationship, of the Persons.” So this then is what the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is saying: God is shared love, not self-love. God is openness, exchange, solidarity, self-giving.

Now, we are to apply all this to human persons made in the image of God. “God is love,” says St. John. And that great English prophet of the eighteenth century, William Blake, says, “Man is love.” God is love, not self-love but mutual love, and the same is true then of the human person. God is koinonia, relationship, communion.

So also is the human person in the Trinitarian image. God is openness, exchange, solidarity, self-giving. The same is true of the human person when living in a Trinitarian mode according to the divine image.

There’s a very helpful book by a British philosopher, John Macmurray, entitled Persons in Relationship, published in 1961. Macmurray insists that relationship is constitutive of personhood. He argues that there is no true person unless there are at least two persons communicating with each other. In other words, I need you in order to be myself. All this is true because God is Trinity.

From this it follows that the characteristic human word is not “I” but “we”. If we are all the time saying, “I, I, I,” then we are not realizing our true personhood. That’s expressed in the poem of Walter de la Mare, “Napoleon”:

What is the world, O soldiers?

It is I:

I, this incessant snow,

This northern sky;

Soldiers, this solitude

Through which we go

Is I.

Whether the historical Napoleon was actually like that or not, de la Mare’s point is surely valid. Self-centeredness is in the end coldness, isolation. It is a desert. It’s no coincidence that in the Lord’s Prayer, the model of prayer that God has given us, and which teaches what we are to be, the word “us” comes five times, the word “our” three times, the word “we” once. But nowhere in the Lord’s Prayer do we find the words “me” or “mine” or “I”.

In the beginning of the era of modern philosophy in the early seventeenth century, the philosopher Descartes put forward his famous dictum, “Cogito ergo sum”  “I think therefore I am.” And following that model, a great deal of discussion of human personhood since then has centered round the notion of self-awareness, self-consciousness. But the difficulty of that model is that it doesn’t bring in the element of relationship. So instead of saying “Cogito ergo sum, ought we not as Christians who believe in the Trinity say, “Amo ergo sum I love therefore I am”? And still more, ought we not to say, “Amor ergo sum”  “I am loved therefore I am”?

One modern poem that I love particularly, by the English poet Kathleen Raine, has exactly as its title “Amo Ergo Sum.” Let me quote some words from it:

Because I love

The sun pours out its rays of living gold

Pours out its gold and silver on the sea.

Because I love

The ferns grow green, and green the grass, and green

The transparent sunlit trees.

Because I love

All night the river flows into my sleep,

Ten thousand living things are sleeping in my arms,

And sleeping wake, and flowing are at rest.

This is the key to personhood according to the Trinitarian image. Not isolated self-awareness, but relationship in mutual love. In the words of the great Romanian theologian Fr. Dumitru Staniloae, “In so far as I am not loved, I am unintelligible to myself.”

If, then, we think of the divine image, we should not only think of the vertical dimension of our being the image of God; we should also think of the Trinitarian implication, which means that the image has a horizontal dimension relationship with my fellow humans. Perhaps the best definition of the human animal is “a creature capable of mutual love after the image of God the Holy Trinity.” So here is the essence of our personhood: co-inherence; dwelling in others.

What is said by Christ in His prayer to the Father at the Last Supper is surely very significant for our understanding of personhood: “That they all may be one, as you, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us” (John 17:21). Exactly. The mutual love of the three Divine Persons is seen as the model for our human personhood. This is vital for our salvation. We are here on earth to reproduce within time the love that passes in eternity between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Metropolitan Kallistos is a bishop of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Great Britain. From 1966 until 2001, he lectured in Eastern Orthodox Studies at the University of Oxford. In 2007, the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate elevated Bishop Kallistos to Titular Metropolitan of Diokleia. He is a member of the advisory board of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. His books include The Orthodox Church, The Orthodox Way and The Inner Kingdom. This text (first published in Again magazine) is adapted from a lecture he gave in August 1998 at the Eagle River Institute of Orthodox Christian Studies in Alaska.

Spring 2009 issue of In Communion / IC 53

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Has God Rejected His People?

Reflections on the People of Israel

by Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia

Making my way home at Oxford in the evening, I used to pass a hot-dog seller who always greeted me in a cheerful and friendly tone with the words, “Good night, rabbi.” Surely, I thought, it is an honor to be so addressed, for “rabbi,” “teacher,” is exactly what Jesus was called by His disciples during His earthly life. The title “rabbi,” little though we may deserve it, brings us close to Christ Himself. In Cyprus, incidentally, it is still the custom to address the priest as “daskale,” which is short for didaskale, “teacher,” the Greek equivalent to “rabbi”; for in the past, before there were regular village schools, the parish priest used to gather the children in church and teach them to read, using as his textbook the Psalter.

On other occasions also, because of my beard and black clothing, people have mistaken me for a Jew and called me “rabbi”; they have spoken, however, not in the friendly tone of the hot-dog seller, but with obvious contempt and hostility. This has led me to reflect with some disquiet on the persistent presence in Britain, fifty years after the Holocaust, of a widespread anti-Jewish prejudice lurking just beneath the surface. And not in Britain only. All too often in the lands that are traditionally Orthodox — whether Greek, Slav, or of other nationalities — there exists a virulent anti-Semitism, far worse than anything normally encountered in this country.

How great is our need here as Orthodox for repentance, metanoia, change of mind!

In thinking about the people of Israel, let us take St. Paul as our model. How did he, as a Jewish Christian, feel about his fellow Jews who had not accepted Christ? We find the answer in today’s Epistle (Romans 9:1-5). Reflecting on the rejection of Christ by most of his nation, Paul’s reaction is not anger, not bitterness or resentment, but overwhelming grief: “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart” (9:2). Although his fellow Jews do not acknowledge Christ as Messiah and Son of God, Paul remains acutely conscious of his continuing solidarity with them. He does not cease to look on them as his “kinsfolk,” his sisters and brothers, and he says that he would rather be “accursed and cut off from Christ” than saved without them (9:3). (Doubtless he has the example of Moses in mind: see Exodus 32:32.)

Paul goes on to speak of the special blessings that God has given to the people of Israel. “To them belongs the sonship” (9:4): God has adopted them in a particular and specific way. Paul is probably thinking of such texts in the Old Testament as Exodus 4:22, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Israel is my first-born son'”; or Hosea 11:1, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I have called my son.” What God said to Israel, St. Paul believes, remains as true as ever: Israel is still God’s “son.” To the Israelites belongs likewise the doxa or “glory” (Romans 9: 4), the shekinah, the uncreated splendor of God’s manifest presence that overshadowed the Jewish people in the desert (Exodus 16:10; 24:16), prefiguring the glory of Christ’s Transfiguration on Mount Tabor.

Among the gifts bestowed on Israel, Paul mentions next the “covenants” (Romans 9:4), speaking in the plural; for there is not just one covenant but a whole series of constantly renewed covenants in the course of the Old Testament – with Noah (Genesis 6: 16; 9:9), with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Genesis 17:2, 7, 9; Exodus 2:24), and then with Moses and the Jewish people at Sinai (Exodus 19:5; 34:27). Equally the Israelites have been entrusted by God with “the law,” with “the worship” of the Tabernacle and the Temple, and with “the promises” of the coming Messiah. Most important of all, it is from the people of Israel that Christ our God took His humanity (Romans 9:4-5). Jesus was a Jew — and so also, we may add, was His Mother.

Does Paul think that all these blessings have been revoked, all these privileges canceled, because the great majority of the Jewish people have rejected Christ? Not at all. Let us see what follows today’s Epistle reading, for chapters 9-11 in Romans form a close-knit unity. Later in chapter 9, Paul insists that, even though no more than a small “remnant” of Israel has so far accepted Christ, the divine plan has not been defeated; for in place of the Jews, God has called the Gentiles. Next, in chapter 10, the apostle refuses to regard this act of rejection on the Jewish side as something final. With far-ranging, unquenchable hope he looks beyond the present situation to the time when, so he is convinced, the whole of Israel will finally turn to Christ. “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved” (10:1) — not just a “remnant” among them but every one. And Paul is confident that his prayer will be answered, for he affirms, not as a possibility but as a fact, “All Israel will be saved” (11:26).

This means that, in Paul’s eyes, the Israelites are still most emphatically the Chosen People. “I ask, then, has God rejected His people? By no means!… God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew” (11:1-2). In God’s all-embracing plan, the people of Israel have still a unique and distinctive vocation. They are still specially “beloved” by God (11: 29), “for the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable” (11:29). What is more, when the Jewish people eventually turn to Christ, this will prove an enrichment to the total Church which lies far beyond our present imagining. “If their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!” (11:12). To the Christian community as a whole their conversion will be nothing less than “life from the dead” (11:15).

Let us all inscribe these words of St. Paul upon our hearts indelibly in letters of fire. Never for one moment let us forget the incalculable loss which Christianity has suffered through the early separation between the Church and the Synagogue. Let us long, as Paul does, for the ending of that separation, and let us keep steadfastly in view his confident expectation that, willingly and by their own free choice, the Jewish people as a whole will eventually accept Christ as God and Savior. And, until that happens, let us never by deed or word show the slightest disrespect or hatred for the people of Israel. They are still God’s Chosen People.

I beg you, then, to make your own St Paul’s “great sorrow and unceasing anguish,” and I ask you also to hold fast to his ultimate hope that “all Israel will be saved.”

The author is assistant bishop of the Diocese of Thyateira and Great Britain as well as Spalding Lecturer of Eastern Orthodox Studies at the University of Oxford and Fellow of Pembroke College. Among his many books, he is perhaps best known for The Orthodox Church (published under his lay name Timothy Ware); a third revised edition was issued by Penguin in 1993. A new edition of a companion book, The Orthodox Way, has been published last year by St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press. An autobiographical essay is included in Toward the Authentic Church (ed. Thomas Doulis; Light & Life Books, Minneapolis, 1996). Bishop Kallistos is a member of the Advisory Board of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. His sermon was preached July 13, 1996, in the church of Saint Laurence, Bradford-on-Avon, England.

reprinted from In Communion (issue 6, October 1996)

Healing Our Damaged World

by Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia

In all our ecological endeavors, we are called to keep in view not only our generation and its immediate needs, but also the well-being and happiness of women, men and children as yet unborn. The vast industrial and financial corporations in the world around us are concerned for the most partwith short-term profit. They lack a firm commitment to the distant future. But we, as ecologically-concerned Christians, are required to take a long-term view. Our perspective is inter-generational.

By what means, then, shall we safeguard the creation for future generations? What symbol shall we take to guide and inspire us in our intergenerational program? Let us not underestimate the significance of symbols. The human animal, it has been rightly said, is not just a logical animal, but, far more fundamentally, a creative animal, and this creativity we express above all through our ability to devise symbols. We are symbol-forming animals, and if we lose touch with our capacity for symbolic thinking, our imaginative vision will be grievously impoverished.As a guiding symbol for our ecological thinking, I would the vast mosaic Gemmata. Behind it there is the firmament of heaven, filled with stars, and in the center of the Cross, if we look carefully, we can make out a human face. This is the face of Christ, and the mosaic as a whole – although this is not at once obvious – depicts the Transfiguration of Christ. The green hill is Mount Tabor, the twelve sheep are the apostles; and the three sheep at the top of the hill are Peter, James and John, the three chosen disciples whom Jesus took with him up the mountain and who saw him transfigured in glory, as his face shone with divine light and his clothes became dazzling white.

The mosaic in Sant’ Apollinare in Classe, dating from the middle of the sixth century, is in fact one of the two earliest representations of the Transfiguration in Christian art. The other early depiction, more or less contemporary with that in Ravenna, is to be seen in the apse of the main church in the Monastery of Saint Catherine at Mount Sinai. In this second case the iconography is more explicit and familiar. There is no Crux Gemmata. In

the center stands a full-length figure of Christ, surrounded by a blue mandorla, with shafts of uncreated light radiating from him, while below him the three apostles are shown, not as sheep but in human form. Within the entire Gospel story, the Transfiguration of Christ stands out as the ecological event par excellence. What, then, do these two mosaics, andmore especially, that in Sant’ Apollinare in Classe, have to tell us about our work for the environment, about the ecological program that we are undertaking, not for ourselves alone, but for all future generations? Extending the Mystery of the Transfiguration:

Let us consider three key points. In the first place, let us reflect on the basic significance of the mystery of Christ’s Transfiguration. It shows us that matter can be transfused into spirit. It shows us, that is to say, how material things – not only Christ’s face, hands an feet, but also his clothes; and not only the body of Christ, but also those of the three disciples upon whom the rays of light fall; and not they alone, but likewise the grass, trees, flowers and rocks of the mountainside which also share in the radiance that emanates from Christ – all these can be transformed, rendered luminous, filled with translucence and glory. TheTransfiguration reveals the Spirit-bearing potentialities of all material things.

Christ, so the event on Mount Tabor makes clear, came to save not our souls alone, but also our bodies. Moreover, we human beings are not saved from but with the world. In and through Christ – and, by virtue of Christ’s

grace, in and through each one of us – the whole material creation, as Saint Paul expresses it, “will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtainthe freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21).

We human beings, in other words, are called to continue and to extend the mystery of Christ’s Transfiguration on the mountain. As Metropolitan John of Pergamon has affirmed, the distinctive characteristic of the human animal is not so much that we are a logical animal, but rather that we are an animal that is creative. Endowed as we are with freedom and self-awareness,entrusted with the power of conscious choice – “sub-creators” formed in theimage of God the Creator, living icons of the living God – we have the capacity not merely to manufacture or produce but to create, to set our personal seal upon the environment, to reveal new meanings within nature: in a word, to transfigure. Through our creative powers, through science, technology, craftsmanship and art, we enlarge the radiance of the transfigured Christ, revealing in all material things the glory that is latent within them. That is precisely what we are seeking to achieve through all our ecological initiatives.

The Beginning and the End:The mosaic of Sant’ Apollinare in Classe, as we have alreadysuggested, sets before us Paradise. This brings us to a second point. The Transfiguration of Christ recalls and restores the beauty of the unfallen world; it shows us the glory and wonder of the material creation as God intended it to be. At the same time, however, Mount Tabor does not simply look back to the beginning but it also looks forward to the end. It is not merely protological, but eschatological. As Saint Basil the Great affirms, the Transfiguration is the prooimion, the prelude and inauguration of Christ’s second and glorious coming (PG 29:400CD).

What is true of the Transfiguration is true also of our ecological work. This too is teleological and eschatological. We are not seeking to return to some supposedly “ideal” situation in the past, but we are advancing towards a future as yet largely beyond our imagination; and for this very reason in all our ecological endeavors we think not only of the past or the present, but of our responsibility to generations not yet born.

Transfiguration and Sacrifice: Coming now to our third point, let us recall the Cross which dominates the Transfiguration mosaic in Sant’ Apollinare. What is it, we ask, that links Paradise in the past (Genesis 1-2) with Paradise in the future (Revelation 21-22)? There is but one answer: the Cross. Without cross-bearing, there can be no cosmic transfiguration. Without sacrifice and kenosis (self-emptying) after the example of Jesus Christ crucified, there can be no ecological renewal. As the Ecumenical Patriarch will be telling us tomorrow, it is precisely sacrifice that constitutes the missing dimension in your work for the environment.

doves mosaic

While it may at first seem paradoxical that the Transfiguration should be indicated in the Sant’ Apollinare mosaic through the figure of the Cross, this is in fact entirely appropriate. In the Gospel story the Transfiguration and the Crucifixion are closely linked, and chronologically there is no great gap between the two events. The Transfiguration occurred as Christ was mak- ing his last journey to Jerusalem, only a short time before he was to die on the Cross. The connection, however, is spiritual as well as chronological. It is no coincidence that in the conversation on the road to Caesarea Phillippi immediately prior to the ascent up to the mountain, Christ insists on cross-bearing as an essential element in disciple- ship: “If anyonewants to be my follower, let him deny himself, take up his cross and

follow me” (Matthew 16:24).

In Christ’s life, as in the life of each Christian, glory and suffering go together. Moreover, during the actual moment of his Transfiguration, what Jesus speaks about with Moses and Elijah is precisely his coming “exodus” or departure at Jerusalem, that is to say, his imminent death (Luke 9:31). In the midst of the light of Tabor, there is planted the Cross. Most strikingly of all, exactly the same three disciples who accompany Christ at his Transfiguration are likewise present with him at his agony in the garden of Gethsemani (Matthew 26:37). Witnesses of his uncreated splendor, they are witnesses also of his utter dereliction.

From this and from much else in the New Testament, it is clear that in Christ’s earthly experience light and darkness, joy and sorrow, are intimately connected. The mysterium Crucis (“mystery of the cross”) and the mysterium Gloriae (mystery of the glory) are a single and undivided mystery. Between the two hills Tabor and Calvary there is no great distance. If we divorce Christ’s Transfiguration from his Crucifixion, then we distort the meaning of both alike. As Saint Paul insists, “They crucified the Lord of glory” (Corinthi- ans 2:8).

What is true of Christ is true also of each Christian. Sometimes in the window of funeral directors I have seen a notice stating: “Crosses or crowns to order.” But there is in fact no alternative. As William Penn shrewdly observed, “No cross, no crown.” It is only through the willing acceptance of suffering that we can come to understand the meaning of glory. To be a Christian is to share, at one and the same time, in the self-emptying and sacrifice of the Cross, and in the overwhelming joy of the Transfiguration and the Resurrection. To be transfigured with Christ does not mean that we escape

all suffering; it means that we are to find transfiguration in the suffering. The transfigured Christ offers not a way around but through. This teaching about suffering and glory, indeed, is in no way limited to Christianity. The other great faiths affirm the same, each in its characteristic way.

All this needs to be applied to our ecological work, whether for our own or for future generations. There can be no transformation of the environment without self-denial, no fundamental renewal of the cosmos without voluntary

sacrifice. In Christ’s words, “Truly, truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground an dies, it remains just a single grain. But if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). Gain comes through loss, life through death,

transfiguration through cross-bearing.

Faith, Hope, Love: Such are three ways in which the mosaic in the apse of Sant’ Apollinare in Classe can help us to understand our environmental vocation. As a further guideline in our ecological endeavors, we cannot do

better than take as our motto the familiar words of Saint Paul, “And now there remain three things: faith, hope and love” (1 Cor. 13:13).

Faith: For our present purpose this signifies above all faith in the essential goodness and beauty of the world, in the basic, inalienable, inexhaustible value of the universe. As is said in the opening chapter of the Bible: “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). In the Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament, the final words here are lian kala, which are stronger in impact than the English “very good”; the Greek means “altogether good and beautiful.” The goodness of the world goes hand in hand with its beauty, and this beauty is apparent not only to the romantic artist, painting a sunset, but equally to the physicist or biologist.

The Greek word for beautiful, kalos, is from the same root as the verb kaleo, signifying “I call, invite,” and here we discern the primary characteristic of beauty: it calls out to us, draws us to itself, it is intrinsically attractive. Unless we feel the beauty and attractiveness of the world around us, our ecological efforts will be tragically weakened. It is all too true that human selfishness and sin have obscured this cosmic beauty, but none the less the world still remains a place of joy and awe. If we are to save the world for future generations, we need to renew our sense of wonder. As Plato insisted,

“The beginning of philosophy is to feel a sense of wonder” (Theaetetus 155D). Such also is the beginning of ecology.

Hope: This is also an indispensable element in our ecological vision. As Cardinal Casper has reminded us, our task is not to curse, but to bless; not to anathematize, but to convey hope to others. We have already seen how true ecology is not nostalgic, but eschatological. Our faces should be turned towards the future, not the past. We are not seeking to return to some hypothetical “golden age”; and it is not enough to be totally immersed in the immediate present. We need also to be forward-looking, with our gaze fixed in firm hope upon emerging possibilities, as yet no more than dimly envisaged. Without this creative hope, without this far-reaching vision, we shall fail the generations to come.

Love: “The greatest of these is love,” adds Paul (1 Cor 13:13). Let us not forget the words of Archbishop Anastasios of Albania: “People protect only what they genuinely love. We cannot save what we do not love. There can be no deep knowledge, and certainly no true wisdom, without love; and equally there can be no cosmic transfiguration without love.”

I remember the teaching of the geronta [elder] on the island of Patmos, Father Amphilochios (+1970) whom I knew when I was deacon at the Monastery of Saint John the Theologian. “Do you know,” he used to say, “that God gave us one more commandment, Love the trees.” Whoever does not love the trees, so he believed, does not love God. “When you plant a tree,” he affirmed, “you plant hope, you plant peace, you plant love, and you will receive God’s blessing.” An ecologist long before ecology had become fashionable, when hearing the confessions of the local farmers, he used to assign to them as an epitimion (a penance) the task of planting a tree. The consequences of his teaching and his practice are visible for all to see: in several areas on the island of Patmos, where at the start of the twentieth century the hillside was bare and stony, today there are woods of pine and eucalyptus.

Let us then love the trees, and let us love the whole of creation, “every grain of sand of it,” as Dostoevsky says. Let us do so with a love that is hope-filled, forward-reaching and inter-generational. Let us begin here and now to plant trees, both material and noetic, which will perhaps require many decades before they grow to full maturity – trees beneath whose shelter in the future not we but our children, our grandchildren and great-grandchildren, will be able to sit with security and eucharistic joy.

Bishop Kallistos, now retired, was for many years Spalding Lecturer in Eastern Orthodox Studies at the University of Oxford. He leads the Greek parish in the same city. His books include The Orthodox Church and The Orthodox Way. His essay was originally presented as a lecture at the 2002 Symposium on the Adriatic Sea initiated by Patriarch Bartholomew.

IN COMMUNION / FALL 2006

Conferences & Lectures

Sacraments of Healing: a retreat for OPF members led by Metropolitan Kallistos

transcripts of six talks given by Metropolitan Kallistos at a retreat in Vezelay, France:

http://www.incommunion.org/2004/10/18/sacraments-of-healing/

Annual Conference of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship

Antiochian Village
Conference Center
Bolivar, PA

October 23-25, 2009

Download PDF of Conference

Theme: “Salt of the Earth: An Orthodox Christian Approach to Peacemaking”

The Orthodox Peace Fellowship links Orthodox from different national traditions and jurisdictions. Recognized as an Endorsed Organization by the Standing Conference of Orthodox Bishops in America (SCOBA), OPF is not under the sponsorship of a particular jurisdiction. Membership is open to any Orthodox Christian (and non-Orthodox as associate members). Both members and non-members are welcomed to attend our annual conference. Download sign-up form and info in PDF here! >>

Go Forth in Peace

The Liturgy After the Liturgy

by Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia

At the end of Bright Week last year, Bishop Kallistos led a retreat on “Sacraments of Healing” for members of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. Our host was the Orthodox parish in the village of Vzelay, France. This is a shortened version of the fifth of six lectures. Bishop Kallistos is Spalding Lecturer in Eastern Orthodox Studies at the University of Oxford. His books include The Orthodox Church and The Orthodox Way.

Last night we spoke about the use of the word “peace” in the Divine Liturgy: “In peace let us pray to the Lord, for the peace from above, for the peace of the whole world.” We reflected also on the meaning of the celebrant’s greeting, “Peace be with you all” and saw how the priest is not just transmitting his own peace, but is transmitting the peace of Christ. Peace is a gift from God.

There is one phrase from the Liturgy in which the word peace figures prominently which I didn’t mention, the phrase that comes after Holy Communion shortly before the final dismissal: “Let us go forth in peace.”

There are many commandments in the Liturgy, many things that we are told to do such as “Lift up your hearts,” “Give thanks to the Lord.”

“Let us go forth in peace” is the last commandment of the Liturgy. What does it mean? It means, surely, that the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy is not an end but a beginning. Those words, “Let us go forth in peace,” are not merely a comforting epilogue. They are a call to serve and bear witness. In effect, those words, “Let us go forth in peace,” mean the Liturgy is over, the liturgy after the Liturgy is about to begin.

This, then, is the aim of the Liturgy: that we should return to the world with the doors of our perceptions cleansed. We should return to the world after the Liturgy, seeing Christ in every human person, especially in those who suffer. In the words of Father Alexander Schmemann, the Christian is the one who wherever he or she looks, everywhere sees Christ and rejoices in him. We are to go out, then, from the Liturgy and see Christ everywhere.

“I was hungry, I was thirsty, I was a stranger, I was in prison.” Of everyone who is in need, Christ says, “I.” Christ is looking at us through the eyes of all the people whom we meet, and especially those who are in distress and who are suffering. So, we go out from the Liturgy, seeing Christ everywhere. But we are to return to the world not just with our eyes open but with our hands strengthened. There is a hymn I remember as an Anglican that we used to sing at the end of the Eucharist, “Strengthen for service, Lord, the hands that holy things have taken.” It was noted in the hymn book that this was from the Syrian liturgy. We are not only to see Christ in all human persons, but we are to serve Christ, to minister to him, in all human persons.

Let us reflect on what happened at the Last Supper. First there was the Eucharistic meal, where Christ blessed bread and gave it to the disciples, “This is my body,” and he blessed the cup, “This is my blood.” Then, after the Eucharistic meal, Christ kneels and washes the feet of his disciples. The Eucharistic meal and the foot washing are a single mystery. We have to apply that to ourselves, going out from the Liturgy to wash the feet of our fellow humans, literally and symbolically. That is how I understand the words at the end of the Liturgy, “Let us go forth in peace.” Peace is to be something dynamic within this broken world. It’s not just a quality that we experience within the church walls.

Let’s remind ourselves of the way in which St. John Chrysostom envisages this liturgy after the Liturgy. There are, he says, two altars. In the first place, there is the altar in church, and towards this altar we show deep reverence. We bow in front of it. We decorate it with silver and gold. We cover it with precious hangings. But, continues St. John, there is another altar, an altar that we encounter every day, on which we can offer sacrifice at any moment. And yet towards this second altar, an altar which God himself has made, we show no reverence at all. We treat it with contempt. We ignore it. And what is this second altar? It is, says St. John Chrysostom, the poor, the suffering, those in need, the homeless, all who are in distress. At any moment, he says, when you go out from the church, there you will see an altar on which you can offer sacrifice, a living altar made by Christ.

Developing the meaning of the command, “Let us go forth in peace,” let us think of the Liturgy as a journey. This is Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s key image for the Liturgy. We may discern in the Liturgy a movement of ascent and of return. That kind of movement actually happens very frequently. We can see it in the lives of the saints — such saints as Antony of Egypt or Seraphim of Sarov. First, in the movement of ascent, if you like, or flight from the world, they go out into the desert, into the wilderness, into solitude, to be alone with God. But then there is a moment of return. They open their doors to the world, they receive all who come, they minister and they heal.

There is a similar movement of ascent within the Liturgy. We go to church. It’s pleasant to walk there, though some people have to use cars. I like to walk from my home to church before the Divine Liturgy, to walk alone if I can. It’s only about ten minutes for me, but it’s quite important, I find, to have that movement, a sense of going to church, a sense, if you like, of a separation from the world and starting on a journey. I walk to church, I enter the church building, I enter within sacred space and sacred time. This is the beginning of the movement of ascent. We go to the church. Then, continuing the movement of ascent, we bring to the altar gifts of bread and wine, and we offer them to Christ. The movement of ascent is completed when Christ accepts this offering, consecrates it, makes the bread and wine to be his body and his blood.

After the ascent comes the return. The bread and wine that we offered to Christ, he gives back to us in Holy Communion as his body and blood.

But the movement of return doesn’t stop there. Having received Christ in the Holy Gifts, we then go out from the church, going back to the world to share Christ with all those around us.

Let’s develop this idea a little. Receiving Christ’s body, we become what he is. We become the body of Christ. But gifts are for sharing. So we become Christ’s body, not for ourselves, but for others. We become Christ’s body in the world and for the world. So the Eucharist impels believers to specific action in society, an action that will be challenging and prophetic. The Eucharist is the start of cosmic transfiguration, and each communicant shares in this transfiguring work.

Now this afternoon’s talk has a very ambitious title. I can’t possibly deal with all the things suggested by it. That’s the great danger — you think of the titles before you think of what you’re actually going to say. So I just want now, in the light of what I’ve said about “Let us go forth in peace,” to pose a few questions about the different levels of Eucharistic healing and transfiguration in the world.

First a question about our parish life. Perhaps this is not true of Vzelay, but it’s true of some parishes that I’ve known elsewhere. I’ve often wondered why our parish council meetings, and more particularly the annual general meetings of parishes, are such a disappointment? To me it’s very surprising that often there’s a rather dark spirit at work in the annual general meetings of parishes. The picture given of our parish life is actually deeply misleading. All the good things seem to be hidden — perhaps that’s as it should be — but we get a very distorted picture. There seems often to be an atmosphere of tension and hostility at annual general meetings in parishes.

I’ve often wondered why that is. How to bring a truly Eucharistic spirit into such gatherings? How can we bring the peace of the Divine Liturgy into the other aspects of our parish life? I don’t have an easy answer, but I think behind this first question there lurks another question. How can we make the Divine Liturgy more manifestly a shared and corporate action? In my own experience, the parish where I am, we began worshiping just in a room, and at that time it was not difficult to have a very strong feeling of the Liturgy as a unified action in which everybody was sharing because we were all so close to one another, and were only a few of us.

Some of the most moving Liturgies I’ve ever attended have not been in churches with great marble floors and huge candelabra but in small house chapels in a room or even in a garage. Gradually our community has grown. Twenty-five years ago, we built ourselves a church, and now that church is too small and we’re working towards enlarging the church in order to be able to have room for all the worshipers. Now that is, in a sense, encouraging, but there is a real struggle here. As a parish grows larger and as it acquires a larger building, it becomes much harder to preserve the corporate spirit, the sense of a single family, the sense of all of us doing something together.

I haven’t got any easy answers here, but that is one level on which I ask, “How can we bring peace and healing into a community that’s growing larger all the time, and therefore that is bound to lose its sense of close coherence, unless we struggle to preserve it?”

There is another level of healing that occurs to me quite frequently at the Divine Liturgy. We often have present non-Orthodox Christians and we are not able to give them Holy Communion by the rules of our Church. Now, I’m sure you’ve all of you reflected on the reasons why the Orthodox Church takes this straight line over inter-communion. The act of Communion, we say, involves our total acceptance of the faith. It involves our total life in the Church. Therefore we cannot share in Communion with other Christians whom, however much we may love them, we recognize as holding a different understanding of the Christian faith, and who are divided from us.

This is, we know, the argument why we cannot have inter-communion. But I think we should constantly ask ourselves if we are right to take this position? In fact I think we are, but I would say to go on asking yourself in your heart if it’s the right thing to do. We Orthodox are becoming increasingly isolated on this issue. In my young days, most Anglicans would have taken the same view, and would have said they could not have Communion with Protestants. That’s certainly not the case now in the Anglican Church. Also, Roman Catholics held this view very strictly, but since Vatican II, whatever the official regulations may be, in the practice of the Roman Catholic Church there is widespread inter-communion. But we Orthodox continue as we were. Are we right? And if we do continue to uphold a strict line on inter-communion, in what spirit are we doing this? Is it in a spirit of peace and healing?

I remember at the beginning of my time as priest — the first occasion, and I still feel the wound inwardly — when persons came up for Communion whom I knew were not Orthodox. I felt that it was my duty as priest not to give them Communion. I was really interested in the reaction of two different parishioners. One said to me, “You did quite right! We cannot give Communion to these heretics. The Orthodox Church is the one true church.” He saw that in triumphalist terms. That made me feel even worse. But then another parishioner came up, and he said, in a very different tone of voice, “Yes, you were right, but how tragic, how sad, that we had to do this.” Then I thought, yes, we do have to do this, but we should never do it in an aggressive spirit of superiority but always with a sense of deep sorrow in our hearts. We should mind very much that we cannot yet have Communion together. (Incidentally, both of those two parishioners are now Orthodox priests themselves. I think the first one, over the years, has grown less triumphalist. I hope we all do, but I’m not sure whether that always happens.)

Then I’d like to reflect on a third level of healing. Let me take as my basis here the words said just before the Epiclesis, the invocation of the Holy Spirit, at the heart of the Liturgy. The deacon lifts the Holy Gifts, and the celebrant says, “Thine own from thine own, we offer thee.” In the usual translation, it continues, “in all and for all.” But that translation could be misleading. It could be understood as meaning “for all human persons, for everyone.” In fact in Greek, it is not masculine, it is neuter — “for in all things, and for all things.” At that moment, we do not speak only about human persons but about all created things. A more literal translation would be, “In all things and for all things.”

This shows us that the liturgy after the Liturgy involves service not just for all persons, but ministry to the whole creation, to all created things. The Eucharist commits us to an ecological healing. That is inherent in our prayers in the Liturgy for “the peace of the whole world.” This means, Fr. Lev Gillet points out, peace not just for humans, but all creatures — for animals and vegetables, stars, for all nature. Cosmic piety and cosmic healing. Ecology has become mildly fashionable now. It often has quite strong political associations. We Orthodox must involve ourselves fully in the movement on behalf of the environment, but we must do so in the name of the Divine Liturgy. We must put our ecological witness in the context of Holy Communion.

I’m very much encouraged by the initiatives taken recently by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. Some ten years ago, the then Ecumenical Patriarch Demetrios issued a Christmas encyclical saying that when we celebrate the Incarnation of Christ, his taking of a human body, we should also see that as God’s blessing upon the whole creation. We should understand the incarnation in cosmic terms. He goes on in his encyclical to call all of us to show, and I quote, “towards the creation an ascetic and Eucharistic spirit.” An ascetic spirit helps us distinguish between wants and needs. The real point is not what I want.

The real point is what do I need? I want a great many things that I don’t in fact need. The first step towards cosmic healing is for me to make a distinction between the two, and as far as possible, to stick just to what I need. People want more and more. That’s going to bring disaster on ourselves if we go on selfishly increasing our demands. But we don’t in fact need more and more to be truly human. That’s what I understand to define an ascetic spirit. Fasting indeed can help us to distinguish between what we want and what we need. It’s good to do without things, because then we realize that, yes, we can use them, but we can also forego them. We are not dependent on the constant accumulation of material things. We have freedom.

If we have a Eucharistic spirit, we realize all is a gift to be offered back in thanksgiving to God the Giver. Developing this theme, the Ecumenical Patriarch Demetrios, followed by his successor, the present Patriarch Bartholomew, have dedicated the first of September, the New Year in the Orthodox calendar, as a day of creation, when we give thanks to God for his gifts, when we ask forgiveness for the way we have misused those gifts, and when we pray that we may be guided for the right use of them in the future. There’s a phrase that often comes to my mind from the special service “When in danger of earthquake”: “The earth, though without words, yet cries aloud, ‘Why, all peoples, do you inflict upon me such evil?'” And we are inflicting great evil on the earth. How interesting to see earthquakes as the earth groaning because of what we do to it.

Finally I ask you to think for a moment about this morning’s Gospel. What happens when the risen Christ on the first Easter Sunday appears to his disciples? Christ says first to the disciples, “Peace be unto you.” The first thing that Christ says after rising from the dead is peace. Then what does he do? He shows them his hands and his side. Why does he do that? For recognition. Yes, to show that here he is, the one whom they saw three days before crucified, here he is, risen from the dead in the same body in which he suffered and died. But there’s surely more to it than that. What he is doing is to show that, though he is risen from the dead, yet he still bears upon him the marks of his suffering. In the heart of the risen and glorified Christ, there is still a place for our human suffering.

When Christ rises from the dead and ascends into heaven, he does not disengage himself from this broken world. On the contrary, he still carries on his body the marks of his suffering and he carries in his heart all our burdens. When he says before his ascension, “See I am with you, even to the end of the world,” surely he means, “I am with you in your distress and in your suffering.” Glorified, he is still with us. He has not rejected our suffering, nor disassociated himself from us.

We see from today’s Gospel how peace goes with cross bearing. Having given peace to his disciples, the risen Christ immediately shows them the marks of the Cross. As I said in my first talk, peace means healing and wholeness, but we have to add, peace also means vulnerability. Peace, we might say, doesn’t mean the absence of struggle or temptation or suffering. As long as we are in this world, we are to expect temptation and suffering. As St. Antony of Egypt said, “Take away temptation and nobody will be saved.” So peace doesn’t mean the absence of struggle, but peace means commitment, firmness of purpose, clarity of vision, an undivided heart, and a willingness to bear the burdens of others. When Paul says, “See, I bear in my body the marks, the stigmata, of Christ crucified,” he is describing his state of peace.

Bishop Kallistos is in the process of revising and correcting his six lectures, which in time we look forward to publishing. In their present form, they are posted on the Orthodox Peace Fellowship web site. Our thanks to Peter Brubacher for transcribing this tape.

Through Creation to the Creator

by Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia

Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees.

— Revelation 7:3

The saints embrace the whole world with their love.

— St. Silouan the Athonite

On the Holy Mountain of Athos, the monks sometimes put up beside the forest paths special signposts, offering encouragement or warning to the pilgrim as he passes. One such notice used to give me particular pleasure. Its message was brief and clear: “Love the trees.”

Fr. Amphilochios, the geronta or “elder” on the island of Patmos when I first stayed there, would have been in full agreement. “Do you know,” he said, “that God gave us one more commandment, which is not recorded in Scripture? It is the commandment “love the trees.” Whoever does not love trees, so he believed, does not love God. “When you plant a tree,” he insisted, “you plant hope, you plant peace, you plant love, and you will receive God’s blessing.” An ecologist long before ecology had become fashionable, when hearing confessions of the local farmers he used to assign to them a penance, the task of planting a tree. During the long summer drought, he himself went round the island watering the young trees. His example and influence have transformed Patmos: photographs of the hillside near the Cave of the Apocalypse, taken at the start of the twentieth century, show bare and barren slopes, where today there is a thick and flourishing wood.

Fr. Amphilochios was by no means the first spiritual teacher in the modern Greek tradition to recognize the importance of trees. Two centuries earlier, the Athonite monk St. Kosmas the Aetolian, martyred in 1779, used to plant trees as he traveled around Greece on his missionary journeys, and in one of his “prophecies” he stated, “People will remain poor, because they have no love for trees.” We can see that prophecy fulfilled today in all too many parts of the world. Another saying attributed to him — not in this instance about trees — is equally applicable to the present age: “The time will come when the devil puts himself inside a box and starts shouting; and his horns will stick out from the roof-tiles.” That often comes to my mind as I survey the skyline in London with its serried ranks of television masts.

“Love the trees.” Why should we do so? Is there indeed a connection between love of trees and love of God? How far is it true that a failure to reverence and honor our natural environment — animals, trees, earth, fire, air, and water — is also, in an immediate and soul-destroying way, a failure to reverence and honor the living God?

Let us begin with two visions of a tree.

Have we not known, each of us, certain moments when we have started with sudden amazement at the lines before us on the printed page, words of poetry or prose which, once read, have forever remained luminous in our memory? One such moment happened to me at the age of eighteen as I was reading that magical anthology by Walter de la Mare, Behold, This Dreamer , and came across a passage from the book of Edward Carpenter, Pagan and Christian Creeds . “Has any one of us ever seen a tree?” asks Carpenter; and he answers, “I certainly do not think that I have — except most superficially.” He continues:

That very penetrating observer and naturalist, Henry David Thoreau, tells us that he would often make an appointment to visit a certain tree, miles away — but what he saw when he got there, he does not say. Walt Whitman, also a keen observer … mentions that, in a dream trance he actually once saw “his favorite trees step out and promenade up, down and around, very curiously.” Once the present writer seemed to have a partial vision of a tree. It was a beech, standing somewhat isolated, and still leafless in quite early Spring. Suddenly, I was aware of its skyward-reaching arms and up-turned finger-tips, as if some vivid life (or electricity) was streaming through them far into the spaces of heaven, and of its roots plunged in the earth and drawing the same energies from below. The day was quite still and there was no movement in the branches, but in that moment the tree was no longer a separate or separable organism, but a vast being ramifying far into space, sharing and uniting the life of Earth and Sky, and full of amazement.

Two things above all are noteworthy in Edward Carpenter’s “partial vision.” First, the tree is alive, vibrant with what he calls “energies” or “electricity”; it is “full of most amazing activity.” Second, the tree is cosmic in its dimensions: it is not “a separate or separable organism” but is “vast” and all-embracing in its scope, “ramifying far into space … uniting the life of Earth and Sky.”

Here is a vision of joyful wonder, inspired by an underlying sense of mystery. The tree has become a symbol pointing beyond itself, a sacrament that embodies some deep secret at the heart of the universe. The same sense of wonder and mystery — of the symbolic and sacramental character of the world — is strikingly manifest in Peaks and Llamas , the master-work of that spiritual mountaineer, Marco Pallis.

Yet there are at the same time certain limitations in Carpenter’s tree-vision. The mystery to which the tree points is not spelt out by him in specifically personal terms. He makes no attempt to ascend through the creation to the Creator. There is nothing directly theistic about his vision, no reference to God or to Jesus Christ.

Let us turn to a second tree-vision, which is by contrast explicitly personal and theophanic:

Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then He said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” He said further, “I am the God of your Father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. (Ex 3:1-6)

Comparing the experience of Moses with that of Carpenter, we observe three things: in the first place, the vision described in Exodus reaches out beyond the realm of the impersonal. The burning bush at Horeb acts as the locus of an interpersonal encounter, of a meeting face-to-face, of a dialogue between two subjects. God calls out to Moses by name, “Moses, Moses!” and Moses responds, “Here I am.”

“Through the creation to the Creator”: in and through the tree he beholds, Moses enters into communion with the living God. Nor is this all. On the interpretation accepted by the Orthodox Church, the personal encounter is to be understood in more specific terms. Moses does not simply meet God, but he meets Christ. All the theophanies in the Old Testament are manifestations, not of God the Father — Whom “no one has ever seen” (John 1:18) — but of the pre-incarnate Christ, God the eternal Logos. Visitors to St. Mark’s in Venice will recall that in the mosaics depicting the story of Genesis 1, the face of God the Creator bears unmistakably the lineaments of Christ. In the same way, when Isaiah sees God enthroned in the temple, “high and lifted up” (Isaiah 6:1), and when Ezekiel sees in the midst of the wheels and of the four living creatures “something that seemed like a human form” (Ezekiel 1:26), it is Christ the Logos Whom they both behold.

In the second place, God does not only appear to Moses but also issues a practical command to him: “Remove the sandals from your feet.” According to Greek Fathers such as St. Gregory of Nyssa, sandals or shoes — being made from the skins of dead animals — are something lifeless, inert, dead and earthly, and so they symbolize the heaviness, weariness, and mortality that assail our human nature as a result of the Fall. “Remove your sandals,” then, may be understood to signify: Strip off from yourself the deadness of familiarity and boredom; free yourself from the lifelessness of the trivial, the mechanical, the repetitive; wake up, open your eyes, cleanse the doors of your perception, look and see!

And what, in the third place, happens to us when in this manner we strip off the dead skins of boredom and triviality? At once we realize the truth of God’s next words to Moses: “The place on which you are standing is holy ground.” Set free from spiritual deadness, awakening from sleep, opening our eyes both outwardly and inwardly, we look upon the world around us in a different way. Everything appears to us, as it did to the infant Traherne, “new and strange … inexpressibly rare, and delightful, and beautiful.” We experience everything as vital and living, and we discover the truth of William Blake’s dictum , “Every thing that lives is Holy.”

So we enter the dimensions of sacred space and sacred time. We discern the great within the small, the extraordinary within the ordinary, “a world in a grain of sand … and eternity in an hour,” to quote Blake once more. This place where I am, this tree, this animal, this person to whom I am speaking, this moment of time through which I am living: each is holy, each is unique and unrepeatable, and each is therefore infinite in value.

Combining Edward Carpenter’s living tree, uniting earth and heaven and the burning bush of Moses, we can see emerging a precise and distinctive conception of the universe. Nature is sacred. The world is a sacrament of the divine presence, a means of communion with God. The environment consists not in dead matter but in living relationship. The entire cosmos is one vast burning bush, permeated by the fire of divine power and glory:

Earth’s crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God; but only he who sees, takes off his shoes, the rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

Certainly there is nothing in itself wrong about plucking blackberries. But as we enjoy the fruits of the earth, let us also look beyond our own immediate pleasure, and discern the deeper mystery that surround us on every side.

Essence and Energies, Logos and logoi: Does such an approach lead us to pantheism? Not necessarily. As a Christian in the tradition of Eastern Orthodoxy, I cannot accept any worldview that identifies God with the universe, and for that reason I cannot be a pantheist. But I find no difficulty in endorsing pan entheism — that is to say, the position which affirms, not “God is everything and everything is God,” but “God is in everything and everything is in God.” God, in other words, is both immanent and transcendent; present in all things. He is at the same time above and beyond them all. It is necessary to emphasize simultaneously both halves of the paradox beloved of the poet Charles Williams: “This also is Thou; neither is this Thou.”

Upholding this “panentheistic” standpoint, the great Byzantine theologian St. Gregory Palamas (1296-1359) safeguarded the otherness-yet-nearness of the Eternal by making a distinction-in-unity between God’s essence and His energies. In His essence, God is infinitely transcendent, radically unknowable, utterly beyond all created being, beyond all understanding and all participation from the human side. But, in His energies, God is inexhaustibly immanent, the core of everything, the heart of its heart, closer to the heart of each thing than is that thing’s very own heart. These divine energies, according to the Palamite teaching, are not an intermediary between God and the world, not a created gift that He bestows upon us, but they are God Himself in action; and each uncreated energy is God in His indivisible totality, not a part of Him but the whole.

By virtue of this essence-energies distinction, Palamas is able to affirm without self-contradiction:

Those who are counted worthy enjoy union with God the cause of all … He remains wholly within Himself and yet dwells wholly within us, making us share not in His nature but in His glory and radiance.

In this way, God is revealed and hidden — revealed in His energies, hidden in His essence:

Somehow He manifests Himself in His totality, and yet he does not manifest Himself; we apprehend Him with our intellect, and yet we do not apprehend Him; we participate in Him, and yet He remains beyond all participation.

Such is the antinomic stance of the true panentheist:

God both is and is not; He is everywhere and nowhere; He has many names and He cannot be named; He is ever-moving and He is immovable; and, in short, He is everything and nothing.

What St. Gregory Palamas seeks to express through the essence-energies distinction, St. Maximus the Confessor indicates by speaking in terms of Logos and logoi , even though the specific concerns of Maximus, and the context in which he is writing, are not altogether identical with those of Palamas. According to Maximus, Christ the Creator-Logos has implanted in each created thing a characteristic logos, a “thought” or “word,” which is the divine presence in that thing, God’s intention for it, the inner essence of that thing, which makes it to be distinctively itself and at the same time draws it towards God. By virtue of these indwelling logoi , each created thing is not just an object but a personal word addressed to us by the Creator. The divine Logos, the Second Person of the Trinity, the Wisdom and the Providence of God, constitutes at once the source and the end of the particular logoi, and in this fashion acts as an all-embracing and unifying cosmic presence.

Anticipating Palamas, Maximus speaks of these logoi, as “energies,” and at the same time he likens them to birds in the branches of a tree:

The Logos of God is like a grain of mustard seed: before cultivation it looks extremely small, but when cultivated in the right way it grows so large that the highest principles (logoi) of both sensible and intelligible creation come like birds to revive themselves in it. For the principles or inner essences (logoi) of all things are embraced by the Logos, but the Logos is not embraced by any thing.

According to the interpretation of Maximus, then, the cosmic tree is Christ the Creator-Logos, while the birds in the branches are the logoi of you and me and all the created things. The Logos embraces all the logoi, but is not Himself embraced or circumscribed by them. Here Maximus seeks — as does Palamas in his use of the essence-energies distinction — to safeguard the double truth of God’s transcendence and His immanence.

Whether we speak, as St. Maximus does, of the indwelling logoi , or prefer to use the Palamite word “energies” — and we can of course choose to employ both terms — our basic meaning and intention remain the same. All nature is theophanic. Each created person and thing is a point of encounter with “the Beyond That is in our midst,” to use Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s phrase. We are to see God in everything and everything in God. Wherever we are and whatever we are doing, we can ascend through the creation to the Creator.

After listening to our two Eastern witnesses, Maximus and Palamas, let us also hear a Western prophet, St. Hildegard of Bingen, who is equally definite about the “panentheistic” character of the universe. In The Book of Divine Works she affirms, “All living creatures are, so to speak, sparks from the radiation of God’s brilliance, and these sparks emerge from God like the rays of the sun.” Elsewhere in the same treatise she records the remarkable words addressed to her by the Holy Spirit:

I, the highest and fiery power, have kindled every living spark and I have breathed out nothing that can die … I am … the fiery life of the divine essence — I flame above the beauty of the fields; I shine in the waters; in the sun, the moon and the stars, I burn. And by means of the airy wind, I stir everything into quickness with a certain invisible life which sustains all. For the air lives in its green power and its blossoming; the waters flow as if they were alive. Even the sun is alive in its own light … I, the fiery power, lie hidden in these things and they blaze from Me, just as man is continually moved by his breath, and as the fire contains the nimble flame. All these things live in their own essence and are without death, since I am Life … I am the whole of life — life was not torn from stones; it did not bud from branches; nor is it rooted in the generative power of the male. Rather, every living thing is rooted in Me.

The approach adopted by Palamas, Maximus, and Hildegard has two important consequences for our understanding of God’s creative power. First, when we speak of God creating the world, we are to envisage this, not as a single act in the past, but as a continuing presence here and now; and in that sense it is legitimate to speak in terms of continual creation . Second, and closely linked with the first point, we should think of God as creating the world, not as it were from the outside, but from within .

In the first place, when it is said, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1), the word “beginning” is not to be interpreted in a temporal sense. Creation is not a once-for-all event happening in the remote past, an initial act that constitutes a chronological starting point. It is not a past event but a present relationship. We are to think and to speak not in the past but in the present tense; we are to say, not “God made the world, once upon a time, long ago,” but “God is making the world, and you and me in it, here and now, at this moment and always.” “In the beginning” ( en arche ), then, does not signify, “God started it all off, billions of years ago, and since then He has left things to keep going by their own momentum.” It means, on the contrary, that God is at each and every instant the constant and unceasing arche , the source, principle, cause and sustainer of all that exists. It means that, if God did not continue to exert His creative will at every split second of time, the universe would immediately collapse into the void of non-being. Without the active and uninterrupted presence of Christ the Creator-Logos throughout the cosmos, nothing would exist for a single moment.

Secondly, it follows from this that Christ as Creator-Logos is to be envisaged, not as on the outside, but as on the inside of everything. It is a frequent fault of religious writers that they speak of the created universe as if it were an artifact of a Maker Who has, so to speak, produced it from without. God the Creator becomes the celestial Clock-maker Who sets the cosmic process in motion, winding up the clock, but then leaving it to continue ticking on its own. This will not do. It is important to avoid such images as the divine architect, builder or engineer, and to speak rather in terms of indwelling (without thereby excluding the dimension of divine transcendence). Creation is not something upon which God acts from the outside, but something through which he expresses Himself from within. Transcendent, He is also immanent; above and beyond creation, He is also its true inwardness, its “within.”

Double Vision: If we adopt the sacramental understanding of the world implied in our “tale of two trees,” we shall gradually find that our contemplation of nature is marked above all by two qualities: distinctiveness and transparency.

Distinctiveness . If we are to see the world as sacrament, then this signifies that, first of all, we are to discover the distinctive and peculiar flavor of each created thing. We are to perceive and to value each thing in and for itself, viewing that thing in sharp relief, appreciating what in the Zen tradition is called the special “Ah!” of each thing, its “is-ness,” or haeccitas . The point is vividly expressed by Gerard Manley Hopkins:

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame … each mortal thing does one thing and the same … selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells; crying What I do is me: for that I came.

To see nature as sacred is, in the first instance, to recognize how each thing “selves” and “speaks myself .” We are to perceive each kingfisher, each frog, each human face, each blade of grass in its uniqueness. Each is to be real for us, each is to be immediate. We are to explore the variety and the particularity of creation — what St. Paul calls the “glory” of each thing: “There is one glory of the sun, and another of the moon, and another glory of the stars; indeed, star differs from star in glory” (I Corinthians 15:41).

Transparency : Having evoked and savored the particular “is-ness” of each thing, we can then take a second step: we can look within and beyond each thing, and discover in and through it the divine presence. After perceiving each kingfisher, each frog, each human face, each blade of grass in its uniqueness, in its full reality and immediacy, we are then to treat each as a means of communion with God, and so to ascend through the creation to the Creator. For it is impossible to make sense of the world unless we also look beyond the world; the world only acquires its true meaning when seen as the reflection of a reality that transcends it.

The first step, then, is to love the world for itself, in terms of its own consistency and integrity. The second step is to allow the world to become pellucid, so that it reveals to us the indwelling Creator-Logos. In this way we acquire Blake’s “double vision”:

For double the vision my Eyes do see, and a double vision is always with me … May God us keep, from Single vision and Newton’s sleep!

It is vital not to attempt the second step without previously embarking upon the first. We need to recognize the solidity of the world before we can discern its transparency; we need to rejoice in the abundant variety of creation before we ascertain how all things find their unity in God. Moreover, the second level, that of theophanic transparency, does not in any way cancel out the first level, that of particularity and distinctiveness. We do not cease to value the “is-ness” of each thing because we also apprehend the divine presence within it. On the contrary, by a strange paradox the more a thing becomes transparent, the more it is seen as uniquely itself. Blake was right to speak precisely of double vision; the “second sight” that God confers upon us does not obliterate but enhances our “first sight.” Created nature is never more beautiful than when it acts as an envoy or icon of the uncreated Beauty.

Never should it be imagined that this ascent through the creation to the Creator is easily accomplished, in a casual and automatic way. If we are to see God in all things and all things in God, this requires persistence, courage, imagination. In the words of the prophet Isaiah, “Truly You are a God Who hides Himself” (Isaiah 45:15). When we played hide-and-seek as children, did it not sometimes happen that we concealed ourselves in a marvelously secret spot, but then to our disappointment nobody bothered to come and look for us? After waiting for a long time, we came out crestfallen from our hiding place, only to find that the others had all gone home. As the Hasidic master Rabbi Barukh of Mezbizh observes, we disappoint God in exactly the same way. “I hide,” God says in sorrow, “but no one wants to seek Me.”

This, then, is God’s word to us through His creation: Explore!

Bishop Kallistos is assistant bishop of the Diocese of Thyateira and Great Britain as well as Spalding Lecturer of Eastern Orthodox Studies at the University of Oxford and Fellow of Pembroke College. Perhaps his best known book is The Orthodox Church (published under his lay name Timothy Ware); a revised edition was issued by Penguin in 1993. A new edition of The Orthodox Way has been published by St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press. He is a member of the Advisory Board of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. His essay, presented in London in 1996, was the third Marco Pallis Memorial Lecture.