I can think of few things as dangerous as a lack of forgiveness. Harboring a grudge completely destroys the soul. I wrote about this quite a bit in my last post, but in order to pray this part (lead us not into temptation…) in truth, the former phrase regarding forgiving others must be fully lived. We cannot even begin to pray if we have not forgiven everyone.
The Elder Porphyrios writes,
For Christ to enter within us when we invoke Him with the words ‘Lord Jesus Christ,’ our heart must be pure and free from all impediments. It must be devoid of hatred, egotism, and malice. We must love Him and He must love us…
On every occasion when something happens to you, place the blame on yourself. Pray with humility and don’t seek to justify yourself. If, for example, you find yourself the object of enmity, pray with love so that you pour love over the enmity. If you hear a slander against you, then pray and be careful, because the noise of murmurings shall not be hidden. The slightest murmuring against your neighbor affects your soul and you are unable to pray. When the Holy Spirit finds the soul in this state it does not dare to approach.”
Why we are led into temptation
St Maximos teaches that when we do not forgive others, then God will allow temptation and sin to plague us. Why would he do that if sin is bad?
Because when we refuse to forgive others, we are full of pride and have already separated ourselves from God. When that occurs, the grace of God leaves us.
He who has not completely forgiven those who stumble, and has not brought his heart to God free from grievance and illuminated with the light of reconciliation with his neighbor, will fail to attain the grace of the blessings he has prayed for. Indeed, he will justly be handed over to temptation and to evil, so that, having retracted his judgments of other people, he may learn to purify himself of his own sins. (St Maximos the Confessor)
As mentioned in the previous blog, we were created with a good nature. It is not human nature to hate or have any sort of division. We are truly human when we are united to one another. Union with one another and with God is salvation. We cannot have salvation if we do not earnestly desire reconciliation with everyone.
There are certainly evil people out there who, as far as we know, do not intend to repent. These may be spiritual leaders or members of our own family. And there are many people who have been deeply hurt either physically, emotionally, sexually, or spiritually by others. For those who have experienced such grief, I do not suggest they try to locate their former abusers and become friends. But, through spiritual counseling and the mysteries of the Church, complete forgiveness and internal healing needs to be sought.
The daily difficulties
Most of us do not have to deal with an abuser daily. Instead, it is the little things throughout the day that annoy and irritate us. Whether it be a car cutting us off in traffic, political drama on the news, or a thoughtless action of a coworker or relative, we must learn to recognize that we have been offended and then forgive everyone at all times. This, of course, requires awareness of our thoughts (nepsis).
Breaking the rules
Frequently, we are offended because we have some sort of internal system of justice that we believe is absolutely right. Someone breaks one of our rules, and we become upset. We unconsciously assume that most reasonable people (and God Himself) shares our internal ideals of justice.
There are many problems with this mindset. Firstly, it provides no room for divine providence. Should God allow trials to come our way in order to teach us patience, humility, or understanding toward others then we will fail to grasp what God is trying to teach us. Also, there is a possibility that things have occurred that have little to do with us, but rather because of God’s divine plan. In our finite scope of time, we simply cannot fathom His wisdom.
When we are hurt, we feel there has been an injustice. Unfortunately, we have no idea what true justice is. St Isaac the Syrian wrote that we do not understand God’s justice at all, only His mercy. What we consider “justice” is sometimes nothing more than well-justified lusts for revenge.
Instead, the examples we are given in scripture are the Lord saying “Forgive them for they know not what they do,” as he was being crucified, St Stephen crying “Do not hold this against them,” as he was being stoned, David writing in the Psalms “If I have repaid evil unto him that dealt unfriendly with me, may I then fall back empty before my enemies,” (Ps 7 LXX) and Joseph telling his older brothers who previously wanted him dead, “And as for you, ye meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save many people.”
Temptation vs. trials
The Greek word for temptation is the same as that used for trials. About these things, St James writes in the first chapter of his epistle:
My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials (temptations), knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
The Desert Fathers often fled into the wilderness not to escape temptation, but to deepen it. The trials in our lives test our resolve and deepen our connection with God. As difficult as they are, these are not to be avoided (nor should they be pursued). God will allow these situations in our lives according to His providence. Every time we face trials and temptations that the Lord allows then it is for our benefit and growth.
Therefore, the Lord was not instructing us to pray to avoid spiritual growth, but rather the temptations that derive from ungodliness. When we entertain unclean thoughts, bitterness, or place ourselves in potentially sinful situation then we are being led into temptation. It is one thing for us to face the trials/temptations that God allows in our lives, it is another thing to take the bait of demons and be led astray into unbeneficial temptations.
Becoming like God
To summarize, if we do not want to be led into temptation then we must forgive every offense against us. This is not ordered to make life more difficult or less fair for us, but rather that we become more like God so that we can be united to Him. These commands are for our healing and our salvation.
That pretty well concludes St Maximos’ commentary on the Lord’s Prayer, from which I based most of this series. The final phrase, “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever” summarizes everything written to this point, though St Maximos provides no specific commentary on it.
Citation note: All scriptural quotes are from the ASV, NKJV, or KJV, and all of St Maximos’ quotes are from his work entitled “The Lord’s Prayer” which can be found in its entirety in the Philokalia Volume 2, Faber and Faber Publishing. The quote from Elder Porphryios comes from his book Wounded by Love, published by Denise Harvey in coordination with Holy Convent of the Life-giving Spring.