By St. Luke of Simferopol
My brothers and sisters, we must have engraved in our hearts and always remember the words of Christ: "If you forgive men their offenses, then our heavenly Father will also forgive you; if you do not forgive men their offenses, neither will our Father forgive your offenses" (Matt. 6:14-15). These words of the Lord are very fearsome. If we do not forgive the offenses of our neighbors then Christ, at His Fearsome Judgement, will place us on His left and will not forgive our sins, because we did not forgive the offenses of our neighbor. You see, truly it is a fearsome thing to not forgive other people.
In the lives of the saints there are several examples of people who were punished because they did not want to forgive. Hieromonk Titus of the Kiev Caves Lavra was on his deathbed. The whole brotherhood of the Monastery gathered around him. Everyone knew there was an old enmity between Titus and the Hierodeacon Evagrius, so they brought Evagrius to reconcile with Titus before he died.
The blessed Titus raised himself up on his bed, leaned his head before Evagrius and asked for forgiveness. But hard-hearted Evagrius responded with these terrible words: "I will not forgive you either in this life or the next." As soon as he said this, he fell down dead, and the blessed Titus stood up healthy from his bed. He told the brothers that he saw angels and demons gather around his bed. The demons wanted to take his soul, because he was in enmity with Evagrius, while the angels wept for him. However, as soon as Evagrius said those terrible words, an angel with a flaming spear struck Evagrius, and he immediately fell down dead. The same angel took the hand of Titus, and healed him and raised him from his bed.
We know of another example from the life of the Martyr Nikephoros. There was animosity between him and the presbyter Saprikios, with whom he was once very good friends. However, as it often happens, the devil with his wiles destroyed their friendship. It was a time when there was a fierce persecution against the Christians. The presbyter Saprikios was arrested, tortured and finally led to martyrdom. When they went to finish him off, Nikephoros followed behind, and fell before him, entreating him: "Martyr of Christ, forgive me." But Saprikios did not want to forgive. When they arrived at the place of martyrdom, Saprikios suddenly said: "Do not behead me. I deny Christ." Thus he denied Christ, and lost his soul. His place was taken by Nikephoros, who bent his head down before the ax of the executioner, and having been martyred, he was glorified in the Heavens. A fearsome, truly fearsome event. And I think it should disturb those who do not want to forgive their neighbor.
Remember the Lord who forgave everyone: He forgave the thief on the cross, the publican, the harlot who rained tears upon His feet and wiped them with her hair. Let those who do not want to forgive remember the Parable of the Wicked Servant, for whom the king had forgiven a very great debt. Yet he, as soon as he left the king, found a fellow servant that owed him a small amount, and catching him he went to choke him, saying: "Repay me the debt."
When the other servants saw this, they grieved very much. They went and told their master. Then the king called for him and said: "Wicked servant, I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?" In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed (Matt. 18:32-34).
These words are fearsome. They urge us to be merciful, compassionate and to forgive others. But we often become ruthless, insist on our own and do not forgive others. Should we act this way? To be hostile with those who wrong us? Certainly not. If we see our neighbor do some evil to us or offend us, we should not hate them. Rather, we should be compassionate, because they are ill. Their soul is ill and suffers from hatred. This is why we should be compassionate towards them.
We should not have hatred towards them, but towards the devil and the demons, who poisoned their heart with their wickedness and made them ruthless and cruel. If perhaps we respond to their insults with insults, we will ignite in our hearts the flame of hate, therefore let us stop and think a little: Who am I to hate them, as if I am better than them? Am I also not full of sin? Then why do I hate them? By doing this our hearts will immediately calm down. Good words will extinguish hatred.
This is how we must act. We are to be lenient towards our brethren who suffer from malice and are ill, nourishing hatred against us. Let us soften their hearts which have been captured and worked on by the demons with the oil of love.
Great Lent is about to begin. The Lord asks us to forgive one another. And first of all I must ask for forgiveness. Forgive me, fathers and brethren, my sins I committed today and all the days of my life.
Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.