28. Mercy & forgiveness
Do we smile with tears of joy inside when we help others? Do we see others as saints, rather than beasts and demons?
There was once a woman, who lived a good life. One day, while going to attend the Divine Liturgy at Church, she was knocked down by a horse carriage. She managed to get up on her feet, but her knees were grazed with open wounds. She went back home, and instead of dressing her wounds, she aggravated them every day. Over time, the wounds remained sore, and one day, she lost her mind. She would then sit by the roadside every day, cried and wailed uncontrollably pointing to her open wounds. People on the way to Church, would see her. Some would take pity on her and give her a few coins. Others would ignore her and walked on.
A few years later, an old monk from a remote monastery passed by; saw the woman, who was aged by her own doing. The monk saw her wounds, and said, “matushka, these wounds are very old, and are merely surface wounds. If you only allow the wounds to heal, you would not have to suffer at your own hands. Yes, the skin would heal and look less perfect than if you were not wounded, but as with life, we learn from our challenges, stand up from our falls, and keep our sight on Christ, and thank God for all His mercies upon us.”
A year later, villagers who passed by that road, no longer saw the woman. Apparently, she stopped aggravating her old wounds, allowed them to heal, and started to pray and thank God once again. One might find her at the Divine Liturgy at Church, or tending to her small flower garden in her cottage.
Saint Seraphim of Sarov, despite his suffering and the wretched spine caused by a severe beating by robbers, was a cheerful and humble saint. He would greet all those who came to him for spiritual direction, with much joy. He reminded us, that life is a journey you have to walk anyway. You can choose to be deluded and depressed, or you can choose courageous steps forward, with a meek smile on your face, and a reverent and cheerful heart, knowing that God is with you.
“Cheerfulness is not a sin. It drives away weariness, for from weariness there is sometimes dejection, and there is nothing worse than that” – Saint Seraphim of Sarov.
4. Mercy to the weak – Saint Seraphim was a courageous elder who took on his shoulders to become a starets to the community. He stepped out of his cell to welcome all those who were depressed and dejected by society, lending his warm heart and wise counsel, so that all those depressed who came to him, came to see the light of Christ through the saint’s actions and words. To the saint, we in the pastoral labors, are not called to be judges, executioners or ritualists, but most importantly, to fulfill the law of God, that we must be merciful to others as our Father in Heaven is merciful (St Matthew 9:13, St Luke 6:36). When we show mercy to others, we must remember to do it not out of pride, but out of love for God and His creation, who are all one with us.
“If you give anything to him who asks, may the joy of your face precede your alms, and comfort his sorrow with kind words” – Saint Isaac the Syrian.
5. Non-Judgment and Forgiveness – The saint called us, to show mercy out of love for all through faith in God. At the same time, he reminded us that we should never judge another, even if we see their trespasses against the laws of God. Let us remember the Gospel reminding us to mind the giant log of sin in our own head before we venture to criticize or judge another’s pin-sized sin (St Matthew 7:1-5, Romans 14:4).
Christ told us to love our enemies, and never harbor anger or hatred. It is difficult for many of us who are deep in the world. We may face a boss we don’t agree with. We may face competitive colleagues who may want our jobs and displace us. We may face neighbors who may not be the best of terms with. We may even have relatives who we hardly meet due to some historical reasons. All these emotional burdens mount up, and through time, become engrained as anger, and eventually, hatred. Sometimes, if we reflect on those ill feelings against others, we may not even remember why we felt that way to begin with.
Yet Christ told us, not to hate our enemies, but love them and do good deeds for them (St Matthew 5:44). What Christ was essentially saying to us, was that we have to transfigure our ill feelings towards others, and transform our own hearts to start with. Imagine a person as an enemy, and it will be impossible to love a person. But if you understand that every single person is a loved creation of God, crafted lovingly by His Holy hands, and that everything in life has a Divine reason beyond our mortal understanding, and that everyone fulfills a Divine purpose of God, then it is more difficult to even see a person as an enemy. If enemies don’t really exist, but merely circumstances, wouldn’t it be so much easier to love another?
Saint Seraphim of Sarov advised that the reason we do not love others, is because we don’t even take time to learn about ourselves. He said that if we are busy learning about our own shortcomings, we wouldn’t even have time to notice the shortcomings of others. He said by judging ourselves, we would stop judging others. He told us, to judge deeds, but not the doer. His most direct and powerful advice was that we should deem ourselves the WORST sinners of all. The good saint also said that the door of penitence is always open. We have seen this on the Crucifixion of Christ and the two thieves. The thief who asked Christ to remember him when Christ ascended, and Christ immediately said, “In truth I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (St Luke 23:43).
Therefore, salvation is not culminated at the Mystery of baptism and chrismation, but is a lifelong struggle towards God right to the last breath we take before death. If that is so, let us always be our most honest mirror to our sins, so that we may step ever closer to God, and not stray away because we chose instead to shine our critical light on others.
Let us pray, my beloved:
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us, sinners”.
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