February 18, 2018

Homily on Forgiveness Sunday (St. John of Kronstadt)

By St. John of Kronstadt

"For 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, says the Lord" (Matt. 6:14-15).

This Sunday is called Forgiveness Sunday, because today the Church directs us to read the Gospel teaching us to forgive the transgressions of others so that our heavenly Father might also forgive us our innumerable transgressions. For that reason, from the ancient times, among the pious Christians there has been a custom, in this day, and during any day of the Cheesefare week, to ask forgiveness from each other, in those things in which they may have sinned one against another. This is a beautiful, truly Christian custom, for who does not sin against his neighbor in word, deed, or thought; and asking forgiveness from another person proves our faith in Gospel, our humility, our meekness and love of peace; on the contrary, the unwillingness to ask forgiveness from those, before whom we are really guilty, reveals in the one who is unwilling to make peace, a lack of faith, pride, conceit, remembrance of evil, disobedience to the Gospel, resistance to God, agreement with the devil. Whereas we all are children of our heavenly Father by grace, members of Christ God, members of one body of the Church, which is His body, and members of one another; God is love 1), and more than any whole-burnt offerings and sacrifices, requires from us mutual love, that love, which is "long-suffering and kind, does not envy, does not make a vain display of itself, does not boast, does not behave itself unseemly, seeks not its own, is not easily provoked, thinks no evil, rejoices not over iniquity, but rejoices in the truth. Bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things and never fails" 2). The entire Law of God consists of two words: love God and love your neighbor. With all that, the human heart is extremely selfish, impatient, self-willed, malicious and remembering of evil: it is ready to get angry at its neighbor not only for a direct evil, but also for an imaginary one, not only for an offensive word, but also for an unpleasant, or a harsh one, or even for a look, which appeared bad, or ambiguous, malicious, prideful, it almost gets angry even at the imagined thoughts of those around it. The Lord, Who sees the hearts, thus says of a human heart: "from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness" 3).

But against a strong malady there should also exist strong remedies; for the great maliciousness of men is countered by infinite benevolence and all-powerful grace of God: with its help, every evil in oneself and in others is conveniently defeated – by meekness, absence of malice, acts of concession, patience and longsuffering. "But I say unto you," preaches the Savior, "that ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any man will sue thee at the law and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also" 4). For forgiveness of our neighbors’ sins, we are likewise promised the forgiveness of sins by our Heavenly Father, mercy at the Great Judgment, – and the eternal blessedness: "the meek shall inherit the earth" 5). But the irreconcilable malice is threatened with the just judgment of God and eternal torment. Hear now one story, which makes it evident how God punishes, even here, those men who are malicious and irreconcilable with each other. In the Lavra monastery of Kiev Caves, in ancient times there were two monks, a priest-monk Titus and a deacon, Evagrius. Having lived for a few years in peace and friendship they, because of some things, have then acquired enmity and hatred toward each other; their mutual malice has lasted for a long time; and they, without having reconciled with each other, even dared to offer the bloodless sacrifice before God. No matter how much the brethren advised them to put away the anger and live with each other in peace and harmony, it was all in vain. Once, the priest-monk Titus became gravely ill. Having lost all hope in life, he started to cry bitterly over his sin and have sent to his enemy to ask for forgiveness; but Evagrius didn’t even want to hear of that and started to curse him harshly. The brethren, regretting such a great delusion, brought him to the dying man by force. Titus, seeing his enemy, rose, with the help of others, from his bed, and fell before him to the ground, imploring with tears to forgive him; but Evagrius was so inhumane, that he turned away from him and furiously cried out: not in this life, not in the future one, I do not want to be reconciled with him! He then has torn himself away from the hands of the brethren, and fell to the ground. The monks wanted to raise him up, but were astonished to find him dead and already so cold, as if he had been dead before that for a long time! Their astonishment grew even more, when the priest-monk Titus, at the same time, rose from his deathbed healthy, as if he had never been ill. In fear of such an unusual event, they surrounded Titus and, one before another, were asking, what did all of that mean. He answered: being in grave illness, while I, the sinner, was angry at my brother, I saw the Angels who stepped away from me, crying about the perdition of my soul, and the unclean spirits rejoicing, – that was the reason why I, more than anything, desired to be reconciled with him. But no sooner than he was brought in here, and I bowed down before him, and he started to curse me, – I saw a certain terrible Angel smite him with his spear, and the hapless one tumbled the ground dead; then the same Angel stretched to me his hand and raised me up from the deathbed. The monks cried over the dreadful death of Evagrius and, from that time, started to watch over themselves even more, that the sun would never set in their anger.

Brothers and sisters! The remembrance of evil is a vice most horrible, and as much as it’s loathsome to God, it is also pernicious to society. We are created in the image and likeness of God: meekness and benevolence 6) should be our unchanging attributes; for God also, always acts toward us according to His mercy, longsuffering and forgives us without count. And we must forgive as well. – But he, who remembers evil, has not in himself the image and likeness of God: he is more a beast rather than a man. Amen.


1) John 4:8-2
2) 1 Cor. 13:4-8
3) Mark 7:21-22
4) Matt. 5:39-40
5) Matt. 5:8
6) here, absence of malice or evil