On Forgiveness Sunday
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today we commemorate the fall of Adam and Eve.
Our first parents fell because they hearkened to a false promise of deification from the devil. The Diavolos (Slanderer) spread his malice through cunning falsehood, telling Eve that God forbade them from eating of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil because he did not want what was best for them, promising that if they partook of the fruit of that tree they would be as gods.
Eve failed to keep her trust in God and became confused and on an impulse partook of the fruit. Immediately she lost the glory of God and she saw that she was naked. Fear and shame entered her heart and, she did not want to be alone in her sin, so she immediately set out to tempt Adam. At this point the Serpent is no longer in the picture and it is Eve alone that is offering the fruit to Adam. Upon hearing these words from his close familiar and helpmate, Adam forgot both his responsibility towards God and the fact that he was supposed to lead and, alas, he also partook of the fruit.
Our Savior once said, “And if thy right hand scandalize thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members perish, and not that thy whole body be cast into gehenna” (Matt 5:30). One interpretation of this passage is that even if it is someone very close to you that leads you into obvious sin, you are to cut them off and separate yourself from them,
One can receive counsels from friends, relatives and even spiritual fathers that are obvious violations of the law of God and order of the Church. How many today remain in communion with heresy or perhaps some moral transgression because of such evil counsel? We see not a few pseudo elders that prevent their spiritual children from breaking with the heresy of ecumenism by their spiritual counsel that is opposition to the basic teachings of the Church. During this perilous era of confusion and falsehood, it is essential that all Christians cultivate a correct understanding of the Church in order to be safeguarded. Satan seeks to deceive even the very elect.
There is a helpful counsel of Saint Poemen that deals with the very difficult predicament of a spiritual father that caused spiritual harm.
A brother asked Poemen, ‘I am suffering damage to my soul by being with my abba, What do you advise me to do? Should I continue to stay with him?’ Poemen knew that his soul was being harmed by his abba, and he was surprised that he even asked whether he ought to stay with him. He said to him, ‘If you want to stay with him, do so.’ The brother went away and stayed with his abba. But he came a second time to Poemen, and said, ‘My soul is very heavy.’ But Poemen did not say him, ‘Leave your abba.’ He came a third time, and said, ‘Indeed, I can no longer stay with him.’ The Poemen said, ‘Now you are saved, go, and stay with him no longer.’ He went on, ‘If you see your soul being harmed by something there is no need to ask what to do. What we should ask about rather is our secret thoughts, to get them tested by others. But there is no need to ask about obvious sins; they must be cut off at once.’
The lesson is clear, there are sins and relationships that must be cut off at once for the sake of spiritual survival.
Because our first parents failed to cut of evil counsel, they fell into disobedience and rejected of the saving counsel of God. After exercising bad judgment, Adam and Eve refused to see things as they were and tried to hide from God. This was a result of panic and an inability to face their sin.
(How easy it is for us to see the sins of others and how difficult it is to confront our own sin.)
God confronted Adam and Eve, and alas, rather than admitting their error and sin, they made excuses. Adam said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me—she gave me of the tree, and I ate” (Genesis 3:12). And Eve said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate” (Genesis 3:13).
In other words, they made excuses in sin instead of repenting. Once again, they did not entrust themselves to God. Because of their stiff necked refusal to repent, sin entered in and God cast them out of Paradise.
This sacred history is about disobedience and also about a total failure to practice a healthy self-examination, without which there is no real repentance. One may ask, what can possibly give us the courage to practice self-examination and stare our shortcomings directly in the face?
We can trust in our God’s mercy, “Who through repentance didst accept the publican, the harlot and the thief, and great Paul the blaspheming persecutor; and Who through repentance didst accept Peter, Thy chief apostle, who also thrice denied Thee…” (Unction Service, Seventh Prayer). The very parables that began the Triodion season are a call to a hope filled self-examination and repentance.
The fast is come, “behold, now is an acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (1 Cor 6:2). Let us confront the sin that lies within and throw ourselves and our weaknesses at the feet of our Savior.
This day is also called Forgiveness Sunday and in today’s gospel our Savior said: "If ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."
We have the practice on this day of mutually asking each other for forgiveness. Yet, without self-examination this can become an empty ritual with meaningless words. Let us not gloss over our sins and say an empty “forgive me” all the while festering in unresolved injustices against the person that we address. To do so is mockery of the forgiveness ritual. Let us all be genuinely reconciled and make a good beginning of the fast.