This reflection is the fourth in a series – links to the first three reflections can be found below.
The first reflection
The second reflection
The third reflection

Recognizing our own sins, taking responsibility for them, repenting of them, and forgiving ourselves for our failings [this is a surprisingly hard step – forgiving ourselves as part of our repentance] – this is quite a difficult set of steps that we undertake every day of our lives. It becomes even more difficult when there is another person involved, and infinitely more challenging when that other person has sinned against ME. When I’m the one who’s been harmed and I am in the position of needing to extend forgiveness to another.

Forgiving my brother is obviously a difficult thing, and we can see this by remembering the words of Christ and the writings of the Fathers of the Church. Our Lord tells us that He will “forgive our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” From this mention in the Our Father we can see that forgiving others is a thing we must learn to do, and also that it must be a difficult thing, since Christ to attached our own forgiveness to it. St. John Climacus (author of the Ladder of Divine Ascent) has many things to say about the remembrance of wrongs (failure to forgive), among them:
“Remembrance of wrongs is the consummation of anger, the keeper of sins, hatred of righteousness, ruin of virtues, poison of the soul, worm of the mind, shame of prayer, cessation of supplication, estrangement of love, a nail stuck in the soul, pleasureless feeling cherished in the sweetness of bitterness, continuous sin, unsleeping transgression, hourly malice…Some, for the sake of forgiveness, give themselves up to labours and struggles, but a man who is forgetful of wrongs excels them. If you forgive quickly, then you will be generously forgiven. The forgetting of wrongs is a sign of true repentance. But he who dwells on them and thinks that he is repenting is like a man who thinks he is running while he is really asleep.”*

Failing of refusing to forgive others is commonly known as ‘remembrance of wrongs.’ This doesn’t mean simply that we have a memory, but that when we recall the offense we continue to have a passionate reaction. We carry memories around with us, this is a product of our being human, and our capacity for memory is not inherently evil. Forgiveness does not equal forgetting – this phrase is popular in our culture, but wrong. When we forgive that does not mean that we erase all memory of an offense from our brain – that is biologically impossible and foolish to expect of ourselves. Forgiveness is the erasure of an offense’s hold on us, the letting go of all passion (anger, hurt, disappointment, etc.) aroused by a certain offense. The memory remains, but we soon quit thinking about it when our reaction to it has gone away.

As thoughts come to the surface during our times of silence, remembrance of wrongs is a type of thought that we need to stop, analyze, and deal with. So, how do we do this?

1 – pray for the grace and strength to forgive;
2 – pray for this grace as you remember the thought;
3 – pray to be able to let go of your passion;
4- [this is, for me, the key step that we hear about very infrequently, and really the main reason I wrote this reflection] – if we have remembrance of wrongs, this means that there are people we’ve failed to forgive. There’s a reason we’re struggling to extend this forgiveness, and it’s a profound thing for our salvation. If I’ve been unable to forgive someone for an offense against me, it’s very often the case that we see something of ourselves in this person and in their offense – we’re reminded of something in ourselves that we despise – so we condemn this evil in another instead of taking ownership of our sin and repenting.

Approaching this 4th step takes great humility, discernment, patience, and grace. We have to look at the particular situation, and search out, in prayer, our own secret sin – what about me keeps me from forgiving my brother. If we can begin to honestly search out these sins in our remembrance of wrongs, we can seek forgiveness ourselves, and we’ll find ourselves able to ‘forgive our debtors.’

*from The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 2001 : Step 9 “On remembrance of wrongs (or, resentment, malice, rancor, spite),” pp.87-89

Advertisements