A week or so ago, I had the pleasure of giving a sermonette after the dismissal at Divine Liturgy. I did this because there was some dissension among the parishioners. Certain people were not willing to forgive one another and to make amends so that they could continue in their struggle for the Kingdom of Heaven. They were stuck in their positions.
I told them that they must forgive everyone, no matter what offenses were made against them. I even used myself as an example of how I was unjustly persecuted by the jailors when I was incarcerated as a youth.
The sermonette ended well, and people seemed to like what I said. Afterwards, during coffee hour in the church hall, a visitor from Ukraine came to me and said, “Fr. Moses, I really appreciated what you said, and I forgive the soldiers, because I myself was once a soldier and I know that sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to. You must wage war against the enemy whether you like it or not. “ “However,” he went on to say, “I will never forgive those marauders who pillaged my home and raped my niece. How can I forgive them?” I responded, “You must,” and he again asked, “How?”
“I don’t know – I wouldn’t even know how to go about it, but I would know that I must, if I wanted to go to heaven.” I responded. He said he’d try, but just didn’t know how.
I gave him a little example from my life. My dad and his brothers once asked their grandfather, Wallace White, how he could forgive the slave owners and have a pleasant disposition around them. Some of those who’d owned him were now his neighbors. He’d seen his kinsmen raped, beaten, and sold down the river. I imagine those young men must have thought him quite the subservient, ignorant old man. He answered his grandchildren, “Because I want to go to Heaven.” He was more interested in the Kingdom to come than the Kingdom of the present.
After I told the visitor this story, he was silent for a bit, and then said, “I’ll try.” I concluded our conversation by reminding him that if he wanted God to forgive his sins, if he wanted to go to Heaven, he must forgive his neighbors’ offenses, no matter how tragic they were.
He returned the following week. “Father,” he said, “I think I’m beginning to forgive them.”