As we prepare for Great Lent, it is crucial we forgive others. No matter what, if we do not forgive others, God will not forgive us. When we fast, without putting on a show, we learn to live as God wants us to live. When we give to others, we learn to put our treasure in heaven instead of on earth. Our salvation depends on these three elements that make up Great Lent. Forgiveness, fasting, and giving is the triad of Great Lent.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, today the church calls this day the Sunday of Forgiveness. When you came into the church this morning in the narthex, you saw an icon of Adam and Eve being sent out of the Garden of Eden, kicked out of the Garden of Eden. It actually says there in Greek, the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise. And it is because my brothers and sisters, Adam and Eve, refused to ask God for forgiveness. And this is why the gospel this morning begins, “If you forgive the trespasses of others, your Father in heaven will forgive your trespasses. If you do not, your Father will not forgive you.”
You see, my brothers and sisters, forgiveness is at the very core of our salvation. And Christ says, “If we do not forgive others, God will not forgive us.” Now, we could sit all day and talk about the importance of forgiveness. In fact, the church has an entire service dedicated to forgiveness this evening at six o’clock where we can come and ask for forgiveness from each other and offer forgiveness to each other so we can begin Great Lent with a clean conscience.
Unfortunately, like Adam and Eve, most of us go through life not even asking for forgiveness. “You know, I really didn’t do anything wrong. I don’t have to ask for forgiveness. They were wrong. They should ask me for forgiveness,” and we end up with this spiral of animosity and anger and our hearts get darker. And God says very clearly, if we do not forgive others, God will not forgive us.
So I’m going to ask you a simple question today. How many of you have something that you need God to forgive you for? Raise your hands, right? It should be everybody, right? Except maybe Panagia up there. All of us have something that we need god forgive us for. Every single one of us. And yet now, don’t raise your hands on this one. This is not group confession. But think to yourself, is there at least one person in my life where I have refused to forgive them for something? Even that one small thing? “No, I’m going to hold it. I’m going to this, I’m going to that.” We all have at least one person in our life that we are struggling with the idea of forgiveness for. And yet we all admitted that each of us has to be forgiven by God. And today he says He won’t forgive us unless we forgive others.
And so it is our tradition as Orthodox Christians to seek and to give forgiveness in these first days of the fast. So think of that one person that you’ve been struggling with and call them this afternoon or tomorrow. Don’t get into a debate, “You said no, I said this. I said that,” just call and say, “You know, I want you to know I’m sorry. Please forgive me.” And you’d be surprised, my brothers and sisters, how that opens up our hearts to each other so we can truly begin to reconcile our relationship. Try it with just one person, “I’m sorry, please forgive me.” And then tomorrow we’re going to begin the fast, The Great Fast as the church calls it. And Christ says, “When you fast, do not be like the hypocrites with a sad countenance for they disfigure their face so that they may appear to men to be fasting.” Christ does not say if you fast. Christ does not say if you want to fast. He says, when you fast.
As orthodox Christians, fasting is a central part of our faith. It is how we learn to train our bodies and our soul to live as God wants us to live. Saint John Chrysostom says that when we fast, we learn how not to want. And when we no longer want, then we can be generous to other people. You see, Christ says, deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me. It is through fasting, my brothers and sisters that we learn how to put ourselves not down in the sense of beating ourselves into a pulp, but to remember that life is not about us.
You’re struggling with forgiveness? Fast more this year, you’d be surprised how when you fast more your heart will be more open to other people because in our fasting, we learn that self-discipline. But please don’t go to the restaurants and advertise yourself, “I’m fasting today, so please give me a plain salad of no dressing and a couple of dry croutons.” You can order those things, they don’t have to know your fasting. Or it’s always easier to eat at home anyway. And let’s face it, no offense against those who own restaurants, but it is cheaper to eat at home. We all know that.
And then finally, Christ says, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures and on Earth, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” This is maybe the most difficult part of living as an orthodox Christian in the United States of America, the richest nation in the world. Our self-worth is determined by how much money we have in the bank. Our value is determined by what title job we have at the largest corporations. And yet Christ says, “Do not lay up treasures on Earth,” where moth and rust consume. You see, my brothers and sisters, all of the stuff that we have collected, as they say, you can’t take it with you. All of it is going to be left behind. All we have is our soul, and then our body will join us in the resurrection.
So Christ says, “Build up treasure in heaven.” And the best way to do that, my brothers and sisters, is to show mercy and alms giving to other people. If you want to store up treasures in heaven, give your money away. I know, right? It’s strange. And yet, the more we give, the more our hearts are open to God, the more we learn to trust him. Because he says, “Where your treasure is, there will be your heart.” If you want your heart to be with God, if you want your heart to be in the expression of your love, then give your money to God. Give your money to other people because your heart will follow.
Because we love money. We cannot deny it. We human beings love our stuff. The shiny stuff, the valuable stuff, the delicious yummy stuff, the more stuff the better. And yet none of it will get us to Heaven. So as we begin The Great Fast, forgive, fast, and store up treasure in heaven and not on Earth, and get ready for the ride of a lifetime this year for Lent. Get ready for your soul to be drawn closer to Christ. And then when we light our candles in just six weeks, we will light our candles and feel the light inside of us to come and to be with God because we have made life about him and not about us.
Have a good and blessed Great Lent my brothers and sisters good strength but most importantly, have faith and live as God wants us to live. Glory to God for all things.