Sunday before the Exaltation of the Cross: Where do we stand?

by Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

There is something we can learn from the story of the woman taken in adultery. This woman had been sinning, freely, light-mindedly, without understanding, in-deed as one of those who did not know what they were doing! And of a sudden she found herself face to face with the fact that sin means death. She was taken in the act, and the Old Testament pro-claimed death unto her. She realized then what sin was. And she was brought to Christ by the crowd who wanted to apply the harshness of the Old Testament law to her, without mercy. And Christ saw that at that moment she had understood everything. She knew that sin meant death, an ultimate destruction in the eyes of the people of the Old Testament who died in separation from God because only in Christ do we find our way back to Him. There was no other way than the descent into the Sheol, the place of the irremediable and eternal absence of God. She knew that everything was over, not only the things that happen in time, but all eternity had become darkness and death: if she only could return to temporary life, to have time to repent, to have time to live in a way that was worthy of God and of herself, she would do it!

And this is what Christ saw in her, this is why He turned to the judges, the sinful men and women who were prepared to kill this woman for her sins while they did not realize their own sinfulness and that they were carrying death upon their shoulders because of them. “Let those of you who are without sin cast the first stones”—and no one dared, because at that moment, these words so simple and so direct brought to their consciousness the fact, that, yes, not one of them was without sin—all had deserted God, renounced their dignity, had betrayed their vocation, and there was no other judgment about them than a death sentence: they could not pronounce it against this woman, because to pronounce it meant that they accepted it for themselves.

And Christ Who knew the hearts of those who were before Him, knew that this woman had gone through the gates of death, and could come back by a divine act that would resurrect her, yes, truly bring her back from an anticipated but certain death. And He told her: Where are those who were condemning thee? Has no one done so? No? Neither do I condemn thee, go in peace, but sin no more!

And these words she could indeed receive in her heart, those words indeed could become the law of her life, because now she knew in her body, in her soul, in her heart and mind, in all her being that sin was death. And she accepted forgiveness which meant life!

Where do we stand, each of us, when we come to confession, when we ask forgiveness from other people, when we are begged by others to forgive them—where do we stand? Are we aware that death is at work in us because of our Godlessness, our sinfulness, the fact that we have chosen? This woman did not know what she was doing, but we have the Gospel speaking to us, we have Christ speaking to us, we know all things: where do we stand?

Let us learn from her; and let us learn also from these men who came armed with stones to stone the sinner and realized that they were locked in the same tragedy of sin and death with her, and that they could not condemn her because to condemn her meant to condemn themselves to the same death.

Are we aware of this when we refuse forgiveness? I am not speaking of the light-minded words of forgiveness which we pronounce so easily—but do we forgive from the depth of our heart? Can we say to God: Forgive as I forgive?

Let us stay with this thought, but also with the victorious joy that God has sent His Son into the world not to judge it but to save it! That salvation is at hand! That it is for us to take—and it is given gratuitously, as love is gratuitous and redeeming.

(Copyright: Estate of Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh)

Evil always slashes, plunges into human flesh, or into the human soul. There is always a person-to-person relationship where there is suffering, hate, greed, or cowardice. but the victory is decisive: evil falls into the hands of the good, so to speak, because the moment we become victims, we acquire a right which is properly divine, to forgive. And then, just as Christ said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” so can we in our turn say, as one of our bishops did before his death in the course of the Stalinist purges: “There will come a day when the martyr will be able to stand before the throne of God in defense of his persecutors and say, ‘Lord, I have forgiven in Thy Name and by Thy example: Thou hast no claim against them anymore.’”

—Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, God and Man

❖  Summer Issue / IC 65 / 2012