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How Forgiveness Strengthens Our Spirits

Forgiveness, Our Weapon in the Struggle With Our Passions


Adam’s expulsion from Eden - commemorated on the eve of the Great Lent - reminds us about the centrality of repentance and forgiveness in the coming weeks. Since Adam’s fall, sorrows, injustices, wars, disasters and other tragic events have permeated human history. Their effects have been so traumatic that no effort of our hearts or minds can bring us to view them as the cataclysmic aftermath of the underlying occurrence, Adam’s expulsion from paradise.

Perhaps we can build this bridge by remembering our own falls. Adam sinned once, but people have been sinning frequently and repetitively. This applies even to those of us who have been in the Church all their lives. Our every fall makes visible to us our infirmity. Passions are present in our nature; they permeate our souls. In the eyes of the Church, they are manifestations of our original sin, a product of our corruption in the flesh and spirit.

We cannot stop our passions or extinguish them. They have penetrated our life down to its roots. All we can do is lock them away in a cell and put a guard outside the door who would not let them break out and wreak havoc.

That prison guard is nobody else but us, our good will and our willingness to live in the spirit by the grace of God. The Grace of God energises us to live in the spirit, reach out for His goodness, live righteously and forgive our enemies. It inspires us to seek purity and oneness with God. It lifts us to His kingdom of Heaven. Passions also give us energy but lead us to our demise. Passions are seductive. They lure us towards sin with their cunning sweetness, create an illusion of hope, and make false promises of comfort and self-fulfillment. People driven by lustful love act insanely; but their passions become the subject of books and epics. Likewise, a large body of psychological literature glorifies people’s desires to become rich and gain worldly fame.

A perpetual struggle is going on between our passions and God’s grace. If we cannot eradicate our passions, what can we do at least to keep them at bay? One chief of a North American indigenous tribe answered this question with this story. He loved to tell it to the children of the tribe, its future warriors and hunters.

“Inside me, I see two wolves fighting bitterly. One is white, and the other is black. The white wolf is one of kindness, love, mercy and justice, and the black wolf is of infidelity, cruelty, treason, wrath and deceit. They will continue their fight as long as I live.” Then he let his listeners ask: “Which of the wolves is going to win?” His answer: the wolf that you will feed.

Although this story does not come from an Orthodox source, it has deep meaning for us. Our soul is a battleground. The adversaries are not the wolves, but the Lord and the Devil. But we are not passive observers in this struggle. We aid one side or the other with the energies of our hearts. It is not enough to nurture the white wolf; we must refrain from feeding the other, the wolf of our passions.

We enter the Great Lent with the full understanding of our purpose - to repent and reform. We start by acknowledging our corruption and treating others with kindness and forgiveness. It is no accident, therefore, that the day preceding the Great Lent is called Forgiveness Sunday.

On this day, we ask others for forgiveness. In doing so, we learn to acknowledge our own digressions and forgive other people’s wrongs as Christ teaches us:

“If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5: 23-24).

During the Great Lent, we say the famous prayer of Saint Ephraim the Syrian: “Grant to Thy servant, O Lord, the spirit of purity, humility, patience and love.” It brings us back to the basic truths about the Great Lent: that it is the time of vehement prayer, exercise in righteousness, repentance and forgiveness of others.

To receive forgiveness from others, we must learn to forgive others as well. We can expect God to treat us to the same standard to which we treat our neighbours.


March 14, 2024
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