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February 26, 2023

Homily Two for the Vespers of Forgiveness (St. Luke of Simferopol)

By St. Luke, Archbishop of of Simferopol and All Crimea

(Delivered on March 2, 1952 - Cheesefare Sunday)

"But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matt. 6:15).

Oh, what simple, yet profoundly, profoundly correct words! What deep truth in them!

Well, tell me, if a person hates his offender so much that he does not want to forgive him in any way, does he deserve forgiveness from God? Oh no, of course not.

Our Lord and God Jesus Christ, who redeemed the sins of all people with His pure blood, also atoned for the sin of your offender. And you, accursed one, do not want to forgive when Christ Himself has forgiven. Oh, how terrible!

Our Lord and God said another time: “Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matt. 5:23–24).

And now, first of all, our prayer is a gift to the altar, and now the Lord says that if you remember that you have something against your neighbor, that you are offended by him, or he does not want to forgive your sin, go away, do not dare to pray, leave your gift and go and be reconciled to your brother.

Oh, how fair! Oh, how great God's truth is in this!

For any monk, the word "forgive" should be the most familiar and most obligatory word. To all accusations, to all reproaches, to all resentments and insults, he must always answer: forgive me, forgive me, my brother.

Bowing deeply and lowly, he should speak this word, a pure and holy word. And we know from the lives of the saints that there were many such monks who were undeservedly charged with the gravest accusations, and they did not justify themselves, but only bowed low and said:

“Forgive me, my brethren!"

What does it mean that our language pronounces this pure, holy word with such difficulty? Why doesn't our tongue turn to say: forgive me, forgive me?

The devil himself holds it back, the devil himself does not allow this holy and pure word to be spoken, for he knows perfectly well what tremendous power it has. After all, we pray daily in the Lord's Prayer: "and forgive us our debts, just as we forgive our debtors."

I heard with horror that among you there was an unfortunate woman who never prays this prayer to God, because of these words: she does not want to forgive offenses, therefore she prefers never to say this prayer bequeathed to us by our Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

And great is the wrath of God on those who do not forgive their neighbors. There are many examples of this in the lives of the saints, but I will give you just one example.

We recently celebrated the memory of the holy martyr Nikephoros. He was a simple layman. He was in great cordial friendship with the priest Saprikios. But as it sometimes happens, the devil destroyed this brotherly love and sowed hatred in the heart of Saprikios, and, no matter how much Nikephoros later asked:

“My brother, forgive me!"

Relentlessly he walked and asked:

"Forgive me, forgive me!"

Saprikios did not forgive.

And now the time has come for the martyrdom of Saprikios. He was tortured and tormented for a long time, then they took him outside the city to cut off his head there. Nikephoros saw it all. He ran after Saprikios and the soldiers leading him, and begged:

"Father Saprikios! Forgive me!"

But Saprikios was silent, Saprikios did not forgive, he concealed evil in his heart. And so, when they were about to cut off his head, he suddenly raised his hands and said:

"Don't kill me, don't kill me! I will deny Christ!"

And he renounced, the accursed one, and kept his vile life. And instead of him Nikephoros, confessing his faith in Christ, was immediately beheaded with a sword.

Oh, how terrible it is not to forgive our neighbors for their sins!

Do we know what is going on in their hearts? Maybe they tearfully repent before God of the offense that they caused us, and we, not wanting to know anything, rudely and ruthlessly refuse them forgiveness.

Each of us has many sins. We all offend our neighbors more than once; and it is established that on this evening of Cheesefare Sunday we mutually ask for forgiveness from each other in all sins.

All of you repent, all of you forgive the sins of your neighbors, and first of all, forgive me. Bless, fathers and brethren, and forgive me, a sinner, for having sinned this day and all the days of my life.

Ask forgiveness, first of all, those whom the Lord has appointed as your shepherds, and then all of you, my flock, my children, given to me by God, should come up to me, asking for forgiveness.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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