Forgive me, a sinner.
God forgives, and I forgive.
Every year we bow before each other, with these words on our lips. We exchange the kiss of peace with friends, family, and even strangers (have you ever been a guest in a parish on Forgiveness Sunday?!)
Why do we do this?
Why ask forgiveness from someone I have not offended?
Why offer forgiveness to someone who has done nothing to offend me?
“The Church reveals to us that there are much subtler ways of offending Divine Love. These are indifference, selfishness, lack of interest in other people, of any real concern for them—in short, that wall which we usually erect around ourselves, thinking that by being “polite” and “friendly” we fulfill God’s commandments. The rite of forgiveness is so important precisely because it makes us realize – be it only for one minute – that our entire relationship to other men is wrong, makes us experience that encounter of one child of God with another, of one person created by God with another, makes us feel that mutual “recognition” which is so terribly lacking in our cold and dehumanized world.
On that unique evening, listening to the joyful Paschal hymns, we are called to make a spiritual discovery: to taste of another mode of life and relationship with people, of life whose essence is love. We can discover that always and everywhere Christ, the Divine Love Himself, stands in the midst of us, transforming our mutual alienation into brotherhood.”
This excerpt from the introduction to the booklet, Forgiveness Sunday Vespers, published by Department of Religious Education of the Orthodox Church in America, says regardless “offense” to our neighbor, we are all guilty of offending Divine Love when we build walls around ourselves and fail to encounter and recognize Christ in each other.
Let’s read again: “The rite of forgiveness is so important precisely because it makes us realize – be it only for a minute – that our entire relationship to other men is wrong”
Let these words sink in. The way we are used to relating to each other on a day to day basis is wrong!
We offend Divine Love when we are content with living lives that are separate from each other.
We build walls around ourselves. We build walls around groups of people “different” than us. We build walls that keep us from experiencing and sharing Christ’s Divine Love.
Trying to overcome this offense, which we have grown numb to in today’s society, is what inspires the approach FOCUS takes to living and serving, both in the church and in our surrounding communities.
In order for us to serve and have that service become anything meaningful in our lives or the lives of those we serve, we must break down these divisive walls.
How do we do this?
Strive to learn instead of assuming
Have you ever heard the saying about what happens when you assume? Let’s just say – the outcome is not good! Our assumptions can lead us astray if we do not take the time to learn about the reality of a situation.
It might be easy to look at someone begging on the street and assume that they are too lazy to find a job, and therefore to blame for their situation.
However, when we take the time to learn about homelessness and employment, the reality is between 40 and 60 percent of the homeless population participates in either part- or full-time work throughout the year.
Don’t fix your neighbor, Serve them
Has someone ever come to you with a problem and your immediate reaction is to spew out advice or take aggressive action in a failed attempt to fix their problem for them?
When someone is in need, fixing isn’t always the right approach for a few reasons. First – it assumes that the person you’re trying to fix is broken. Second – it assumes that the “fixer” is not broken. The truth is, we are all broken and in need.
Advice and action are sometimes needed, but only after offering a listening ear. Stepping in stride beside someone who is going through troubled times allows for us to recognize our own brokenness and truly SERVE in the spirit of Christ’s love!
View life through a lens of compassion
“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven.” Luke 6:37
We have written before about stereotypes vs. compassionate thinking. In every encounter, we have to challenge ourselves to reach out with compassion instead of judgment.
To judge others requires separation. If we recognize that each of us is made in the image and likeness of Christ, there would be no room to judge because we would be venerating and loving each other instead!
This Lenten Season, join our journey through “40 days with FOCUS,” a special weekly blog series where you will hear Lenten reflections from different servant-leaders who work within our organization. We are excited to share wisdom from the men and women who lead our ministries across the country with love and live out the mission of FOCUS every day in their work and lives. Thank you for reading!