Homily for 8/23/06 - P11 - reptition and forgveness
One of he "truisms" of public speaking is that you tell your audience
what you are going to tell them, then you tell them, then you tell them
what you told them. The reason that this is true is that it is
repetition. We need repetition to learn and internalize new
information. It is said that the average person only uses about 10% of
his brain and that of that 10% he only retains about 10% of what he
reads or hears. Thus the only way to really learn anything is to read
it or hear it over and over again. Not only reading and hearing but
also doing requires repetition. When a person is learning a new skill
he repeats the task over and over again until he has learned the basic
skill. And then, in order to perfect his knowledge, he continues to
repeat the task until he has mastered it. Once the skill is mastered
then he can begin to teach the same skill to someone else -- by having
the student repeat it over and over again, just as he did.
In the Church we also have this same repetition. We say the same
prayers, we sing the same hymns over and over again -- and as we do they
gradually "sink in". Years ago, when my son was still a boy, one of his
regular tasks was to chant the 1^st hour in Church. He got pretty
proficient at chanting this service and even though he never "studied"
the content, by sheer force of repetition, the meaning of what he was
reading soaked in. This came out one evening at the table as we were
discussing old age and illness, suddenly he reminded us that the
lifespan of a person is bout 70 or 80. I was a bit surprised since we
know quite a few people older than that and asked him how he knew this.
His answer was to quote the psalm that is repeated in the first hour,
Psalm 89, "As for the days of our years, in their span they be
threescore years and ten, and if we be in strength, mayhap fourscore
years." All this time, he had been chanting this psalm over and over,
and not only did he learn how to read the words well, but he also
learned some of the lessons that the words were teaching. This is the
power of repetition in our prayers and hymns.
There is another prayer that we constantly repeat over and over again.
That is the "Lord's Prayer", the "Our Father..." This great prayer,
given to us by our Lord Himself, is full of the truth of our spiritual
life. In it we repeat over and over the words which teach us about God,
Who He is, what He does, and so on. As we learn about God, we also
learn how to act like Him -- how conform our lives to his and so to
become like Him (which is the goal of our salvation). One of the
petitions that we repeat over and over again speaks of God's
forgiveness. We ask God to "forgive us our debts as we forgive our
debtors". From this we learn two things, that we need to be forgiven by
God and that we also need to forgive others, in the same way that God
The parable of the Gospel that we heard today is another lesson in
forgiveness. It is an illustration of this very petition in the Lord's
Prayer. In this parable, we are reminded of our need to be forgiven by
God as we find ourselves in the place of a servant who owes his master
an unpayable sum of money. When the master calls the debt due, the
servant, knowing that he is unable to pay, begs for mercy. The master,
out of his great compassion and love for his servant, forgives the debt
completely. We have been given a great treasure by God -- our very
life. But too often we squander this treasure, using it to appease our
own desires and passions with no regard for or even awareness of how we
have wasted this precious resource intended for us to prepare for
eternity -- for us to grow into the image and likeness of God Himself.
This is our sin, this is the reason that we cannot repay the debt. And
so when we come before God to show Him what we have gained in our lives,
we have nothing to show Him, only the scraps of our own self-indulgence.
Seeing the consequences of our own wasteful actions, we cry out to God
in repentance, asking forgiveness of Him -- and He, in His love and
compassion for us, grants us that forgiveness.
Now we have a fresh opportunity to go out and to begin working out our
salvation, actualizing the image and likeness of God with which we were
created. And like the servant in the parable we run into one of our
fellow servants who has offended us over some trifling matter. Almost
immediately we have the opportunity to be like our Master, to be like
God -- and we don't do it. In the parable the servant not only demanded
that his fellow pay the small debt that he owed, but refused to even
consider the plea for mercy and leniency. In our lives we too find that
while we ask, even expect, forgiveness from God, we are very slow to
give that same forgiveness to others. We may say that we forgive, but
in our hearts we love to hold onto that grudge, to nurture it, to resent
the person who has offended us, to indulge in thoughts and fantasies of
revenge. We have made a choice not to forgive -- we have chosen to hold
onto the offenses of others while at the same time we expect God to let
go of our own offenses (as if He owed us that much). See how this
refusal to forgive has been fed by pride and exploded into something
even more serious than simply wasting the gift that God has given us.
Now because of our pride (which found a home in our refusal to forgive)
we think that we do not owe God, but rather God owes us -- just like our
fellow men owe us. We have not become like God, but in our own mind we
have become God and replaced Him with ourselves. Our lack of
forgiveness has put us into the same sin as that of our first parents
Adam and Eve, who by disobeying God and eating the fruit of the tree of
the knowledge of good and evil, sought to be God's equal rather than His
We were created with the potential, with the calling to become like God,
to make His image in us manifest in our lives. We are called to become
vessels of the life of the Holy Trinity and to live in union with God.
In order to do this, we must empty ourselves of our own lives, of our
own ideas and ideals, our own wants and desires, and our own passions,
and nurture instead in ourselves the life of God, living according to
His will, making His wants and desires our wants and desires, replacing
our passions with His virtues. We are called to be like Him and so to
be filled with Him. In order to do this, we must learn to be like Him,
taking on His characteristics as our own -- usually by sheer repetition,
unlearning the old habits of our sin and taking on the new habits of
righteousness. Doing over and over again the things that God does.
Forgiving our brother not only one time or even seven times, but seventy
times seven (a Biblical allegory for an infinite amount).
My brothers and sisters, if you take just this one thing to heart --
forgiveness -- and practice it over and over again, it will lead you to
all the other virtues. And so practice forgiveness at every
opportunity. When someone offends you rejoice -- not in the "payback"
but in the chance to forgive. Be eager to forgive others, offering
forgiveness freely, even before they ask. Forgive others as God has
forgiven you. When forgiveness is perfected in you, then you will be
filled with all the other virtues and characteristics of God -- you will
be like Him, sharing in His life, living in union with Him.
Archpriest David Moser
St Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church (ROCOR)
Ask Fr David: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/frd_private/
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