Today’s Gospel reading was from St. Matthew, Chapter 18, verses 21ff. They read, “Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” (NKJ)
In Father’s sermon today he talked about what Jesus meant when he told Peter to forgive “seventy times seven.” The number seven symbolizes completeness. God rested on the seventh day after having created the world in six, declaring it the Sabbath. He was done and it was time to rest. He commanded us to do the same. Seventy indicates Divine completion.
The Lord’s Prayer says “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” At Forgiveness Vespers, before Lent begins, we ask each and every person for their forgiveness and respond, “As God forgives, so I forgive.”
We are to forgive as God forgives us. We ask God to forgive us as WE FORGIVE someone else. That’s heavy. As Father explained, if we do not forgive then Divine forgiveness is not ours. We will go round and round the mountain so to speak, but not grow in Spirit and Truth unless we forgive. Holding on to anger and bitterness prevents that growth. It demonstrates an unforgiving heart. When we do forgive, the seven is Divinely completed…seven times seventy.
Fighting that anger and bitterness is hard, hard work. How do I know? Because I’ve got a dog in that fight. As I read more and more about the devastation in the south, the looting, the “it’s ‘cause we’re black” card being thrown on the table as the reason for the seemingly slow Federal response, the attitude of “I deserve it” being demonstrated and a whole lot more, the angrier I got (along with other personal issues). Then in creeps other things totally unrelated that continue to feed the angry wolf that paces inside me. Anger ate at me. It started to make my heart like stone and dampen the glowing coal of love for God. Anger can start to fill every pore of your body and mind so that all you can think on is what you’re angry about. It intruded into the prayers I tried to say. Every phrase was interrupted by some angry or inappropriate thought.
But today’s sermon was a cold dash of water. As I spluttered out from under the metaphorical bucket, trying to catch my breath, I went, “HUH? Oh yeaaaaaaa! Okay! I think I see.” Then as I reflected back over the week, after metaphorically drying my face, I realized how merciful God was to me by preparing my heart to hear [again] this important Truth. I remembered reading Minor Clergy’s post on fear and linking to it in one of my earlier posts. The quote from St. Ignatius Brianchaninov, The Arena was the first cold drop of water. “Carefully attend to yourself…” S-P’s comment in the same post was the second drop of water. “Yep. Life is hard. It’s a fallen world. That’s why we pray and give alms and trust in God.” That’s why we pray. Yeah, that is why we pray.
I realized that I was praying for everyone else this week and forgot to attend to myself in my prayers. It is all well and good to give oneself away in times of need and to pray for others. To storm heaven so to speak. But to forget oneself in your own prayer closet, well that only leaves the defenses down for the evil one to sneak in like smoke under the door and before you know it, you’re choking to death. Choking on the anger and bitterness that rise in your throat like bile. BLECH!
I love the Orthodox Church. I love that there is a Liturgical cycle that we follow year after year. It is the way God reminds me over and over of His Truths that are to my salvation.
Hear our prayer O Lord. Hear our prayer.