On Forgiveness: Seven Easy Steps

Yesterday was Forgiveness Sunday, which is the start of the Great Fast. Today, I read this wonderful piece by Fr Konstantin Kobelev (you can read it for yourself at www.orthochristian.com/119809.html). Kobelev states that there are seven stages of forgiveness. Believe it or not, they’re quite commonsensical.

Here is my humble attempt at encapsulating them:

Stage one: Don’t make any enemies. (Easy enough under most circumstances. This is where that stuff about turning the other cheek comes in.)

Stage two: Don’t make it personal. (Remember, your “enemy” is a human being. He thinks he’s right. He might be, then again, maybe not.)

Stage three: Give the offender over to God. (Don’t ask for justice; you’ve probably got some coming to you. And anyway, if your offender is worthy of punishment, God will mete it out to him.)

Stage four: Depart in peace. (If no resolution is possible, cut off ties as amicably as possible. Life it too short to have to put up with irritants.)

Stage five: If your anger does not pass, forget about your enemy. (Literally, forget about him. He has his own cross to bear. Pick up your own cross and bear it instead.)

Stage six: Pray for your enemies. (Hey, Jesus did this on the Cross. St Stephen the First-martyr did it as well –and they were throwing stones at him. You want to be with them when you die? I do.)

Stage seven: Turn away from evil and do good. (Do something nice for them. Believe it or not, it’ll do wonders for you and it’ll totally flabbergast him.)

Oh, I almost forgot: Brethren, forgive me. God forgives and I forgive.


  1. Michael Bauman says

    I will give the example of the most truly evil person I have ever known: raped his own prepubescent daughters(three of them over the years until they “aged out”), terrified abd gaslighted his wife, kept company with demons which included sending some of his evil friends after my son. An enemy by any standard.

    Step One: My late wife and I thought we had been his friend for years so that does not apply in this case. We were in his home frequently and my son and his oldest daughter were friends who shared homeschooling together from time to time.

    Step Two: That one was difficult because he made it personal in his pursuit of me, my son and his ex-wife somewhat relentlessly.

    Step Three: I did indeed give him over to God especially in the night when I was up all night praying for my son, not knowing for sure that he was under spiritual attack but figuring it out later. (Also his ex-wife had to prayers for exorcism after she kicked him out because his critters kept showing up and disrupting things)

    Step four: Cut him off early without rancor, but it did have to be rather strongly reiterated to his agents that kept coming after me and his ex-wife even in our parish coffee hour. Not to mention the prayer battles.

    Step five: we longed for that, but rather difficult as he kept taking his ex-wife back to court, and harassing her and to a lesser extent me. Including becoming a member of my son’s former archery club in which we still occasionally shot.

    Step six: Pray for him–yes eventually but see more below

    Step seven: I think that this is impossible with this man. He and his friends twist anything you do or say into a weapon against you–or try to. He quite literally prefers the companionship of demons to that of God.

    **Note on prayer: A few nights ago as I was contemplating my own sinfulness in prayer using the Jesus Prayer, he came to mind unbidden. What happened next was unsought and totally beyond anything I could have imagined. As I was praying for myself and he came to mind it was as if my heart reached out for him, surrounded him and brought him into my prayer. That lasted awhile and then the experience passed. A great peace came over me. I know he will trouble me no more and there is hope for his own repentance.

    My own repentance came first. A stage left out perhaps?

    God is good.

    • George Michalopulos says

      He is good, indeed.

    • I have had to forgive great harm done to me and trust abused.  Yes all those steps,  above all to think of Christ on the Cross and how in the passage of time,  like wars fought, the hate will seem trivia and how it does most damage to us who hate 

  2. Alitheia 1875 says

    Generally speaking, forgiveness is very hard for us humans. For example, if someone causes the death of a loved one (murder, auto accident, etc.) which do we hear more of, forgiveness expressed publicly or condemnation and wishing evil on the perpetrator. Without the humility necessary to forgive none of the virtues are possible to attain. Some years ago a young child was paralyzed by a stray bullet on the streets of Boston. She and her mother showed up in court to give a victim statement. The young girl forgave him and her mother pushed her over in her wheelchair so she could give the shooter a hug. The silence in the courtroom was deafening. Very powerful. And a lesson for all of us.

  3. Michael Bauman says

    Alitheia 1875

    RE: Sentence construction–leave out either us or humans, preferably “humans”. You don’t need both and the combination is awkward.

    Better yet leave out the phrases: “for us humans” and “Generally speaking”

    Forgiveness is hard. That works the best.

  4. Safe-Girl says

    The Prince of this world is Satan… this wretched world is not a place to bring children, it seems FEW understand that, besides the holy monastics… sorry to offend those who have children but it’s the ugly truth.
    Y’all never ask: in what world am I bringing a child into?
    As for forgiveness, it’s not that we pardon evil, it’s not to feel compassion toward the evildoer, it’s to Release the evil incident knowing that GOD ALLOWED IT… for A REASON!
    That’s what the famous nun of Greece, Mother Gavrilia repeatedly said in her biography ‘Ascetic Of Love’ – that everything that happens is Destiny – this fallen world is a schoolhouse to purify our sinful nature that we reach not for worldliness but for Theosis. 

    • Gail Sheppard says

      I have to disagree with you, Sage-Girl. Every life brought into this world is here because God both allowed it and created it. It sounds as if you have given up on God and because He can’t be trusted, we should take matters into our own hands.

      This is not Satan’s world. It’s God’s world. It is incumbent upon parents to make sure our children know Him and to protect them, to the degree we can. But not bringing them into the world? I remember considering that question back in the 80s when I worried about various things that, interestly, never came to pass. There were other challenges, however, I never saw coming. But having said that, not a day goes by where I regret having children or being a mother. I’m so glad I didn’t give into my fears.

      • Sage-Girl says

        Forgive me Gail – I didn’t clarify my point. Yes I agree with you actually but I’m saying parents like you are special to bring up children in the Faith – Not all parents are worthy like you & some are disordered & bring into being a menace to society; you only need to hear the daily horror news. I posit this on Monastic beliefs, they don’t have children or marry because the world is ruled by Satan.
        Majority of Saints never had kids … again I repeat Mother Gavrilia – Everything that happens God Allows It for a reason .

        • Tim R. Mortiss says

          “Be fruitful and multiply”…don’t think that was ever repealed…
          With 22 offspring (inclusive of children and their spouses, grandchildren and theirs), we take a different view!

          • Michael Bauman says

            Amen, amen, amen!

          • “I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I. But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.” – 1 Corinthians 7:8-9

        • Antiochene Son says

          St. John Chrysostom points out that, of all the commands in scripture, the question of marriage vs. virginity is the one St. Paul leaves to those who will receive it. Both ways are valid, both ways have positive and negative aspects. Both require grace, and both can produce grace.
          Which is why it upsets me when I hear clergy, whether married or not, casting shade on clergy of the opposite disposition, as I happened to hear the other day. It’s not right; both are welcome, both are needed, and both are able to teach others through their way of life.

    • Michael Bauman says

      Sage-Girl, are you an annihilationist? Children are a gift as our wedding service makes abundantly clear. My late wife could not live long enough to have more than one child, am I supposed to rejoice in that, or wish my son dead just because life is not easy?

      What if he ends up living a martyric life that glorifies God? It is not part of the Christian life to avoid suffering or Jesus would not have gone to the Cross and called us to follow.

      It is more likely in this day and age that anyone who tries to live a faithful Christian life will be martyred or live a live of struggle. Jesus told us the world would hate us. Certainly it does, but that is nothing new.

      • Sage-Girl says

        Michael, I mean to say only GOOD normal people should reproduce…
        now if you study the great Orthodox Saints who were mostly Monks or Hermits who never reproduced, they Renounced this material world For A Reason… and they reached Theosis.
        THEOSIS is what an genuine Orthodox person aspire to more than anything else in the world. It comes before relatives & friends & money & property & name & game. Jesus Himself said:
        ”No one is worthy of Me who loves mother father sister brother more than Me”

        • Michael Bauman says

          Sage-girl, I am neither good nor normal (whatever that means) I have always been an anomaly amongst my peer group.  
          There is a bias in the selection of saints IMAO.  It is much easier to see the faults of folks in the world.  I do pray for the day when Our Good Lord reveals His Householder saints.  

          • Gail Sheppard says

            I am neither “GOOD” or “normal” either, Michael. Christ said only God is good. –

            The world is not wholly evil as some would suggest. If that were true, “sons of the evil one” (the tares or weeds) could not be separated from the “sons of the kingdom” (the wheat) because there would be nothing to separate. And if women were better off not having children, why would 1 Timothy 2:15, say, “But women will be preserved through the bearing of children. . .”? Raising a child is one of the best ways to “die to yourself,” which a monastic would understand.

            It is God who creates life. Anyone who suggests that the creation of life should be avoided should take it up with Him. He obviously doesn’t agree.

            • Sage-girl says

              Gail – I never said the world is “wholly” evil – it’s both good & bad, it’s a place of duality, but the ‘bad’ is run by horrible demonic force; read herein Orthodox Bible scriptures I sent…
              Earth, the realm of matter is a temporary place — it’s NOT our true Home.  Our home is in Paradise – our true self is known only in Heaven – nobody except an illumined Saint can know you … and yes, you’re “Good” – good enough to bring in a soul, a child who can reach his THEOSIS because you birthed him & lead him to God. That’s a feat, a “crown” in itself!Compare that to a disordered/demon possessed female reproducing? We’ve all heard of women killing their kids.  
              Again, it’s your Destiny to have become a mother and that too adds to Kingdom of God’s Plan.

        • Michael Bauman says

          Sage-girl, what of the daughters of my friend who happened to marry a demon loving man.  Should her 5 children have not been born?  Each one is a blessing in some way to those around them.  
          God sends His bounty upon the just and the unjust. So it is with children

          • Sage-girl says

            No, Michael Bauman – it was Destiny those kids were born & to have that demonic father  – Why?
            Because like I earlier said, the Saints tell us: Everything that happens, happens for a Reason!  This wretched earth is a schoolhouse of pain & pleasures to lead us toward God. 

            • Gail Sheppard says

              Everything may happen for a reason, but that “reason,” in great part, is free will. If you believe in destiny, then you do not believe in free will. God knows the outcome but He does not create it. We are free, co-creators with God. What you see around you is not strictly demonic. It is the sum total of the choices we’ve made which, clearly, can be quite poor.

            • Michael Bauman says

              Forgive me Sage-girl, I do not have the ability to understand what your are saying. Since I am unable to even begin to understand your premises, I will bow out of this conversation with the hope that God blesses you fully and abundantly and leads you into His Kingdom.

  5. Sage-Girl says

    What Kind of Authority Does Satan Exercise?
    Jesus referred to him as “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31), and Paul calls him “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2) and “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4). John makes a further distinction when he says: “We know that we are of God, and the whole world is in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). These references leave us with the question: In what sense does Satan “rule” the world?
    The Bible frequently uses “the world” or “this world” to refer to the present evil system of opposition to God. So, the Bible never teaches that Satan actually rules over the entire world, but that he is ruler over the current system of sinful opposition to God. In other words, he’s leading the rebellion against God.
    Satan’s Limited Authority
    The book of Job gives further insight into the limited nature of Satan’s power. Satan came before God with other heavenly beings (Job 1:6), and God asked him where he had been (1:7). Satan tells him, and God asks if he knows about his servant, Job (1:8). Satan challenges God, saying he’s put a hedge around him and blessed him, and he asks God to take away the hedge, threatening that if he did, Job would curse God to his face (1:10-11). God removes the hedge of blessing around Job’s life, but restricts Satan’s activity.
    It is clear from this that Satan could do only what God had given him permission to do, and nothing more. Job was certainly a believer, but there is no reason to think that Satan somehow has unrestricted authority over unbelievers. This Scripture tells us the reason that Satan has any authority at all, because God allows it to be so…for now.
    All the Kingdoms of the World and Their Authority
    Back to your question: If Jesus had bowed his knee to him, could Satan really have given “all the kingdoms of the world and their glory” (Matthew 4:8) to him? If we take what we’ve learned so far, we can reframe the situation a bit. The kingdoms of the world are made up of people and systems in rebellion against God.
    Satan was essentially tempting Jesus to join his rebellion against God.
    How would Jesus do this? By choosing to bypass God’s plan for him to humble himself, die on the cross for our sins, rise to new life, and receive the kingdom of God from his Father (Ephesians 2:5-10). Instead of bowing to God, and being obedient to him, Jesus could bow to Satan, avoid the pain and suffering of the cross, and immediately become king of Satan’s rogue kingdom.
    Why the Son of God Took on Flesh and Blood
    Yes, Satan could have given this kingdom to Jesus. But the very reason that the Son of God took on flesh and

    • George Michalopulos says

      Sage-girl, you are extremely sensitive to injustice from what I read.  That speaks to the good in my humble opinion.  What’s more, you have encapsulated the problem of theodicy (or God’s justice) and why the gnostic imperative is so alluring to many people, not just Christians.
      Regardless, what you are describing is gnosticism and ultimately, it is irreconcilable with Christianity.  

      • Sage-Girl says

        George Michaelopulos, I’m just the messenger — don’t shoot me. Haha… but seriously, to be Holy means to be “set apart”, not going along with rest of secular Godless world.  I wonder how many “Orthodox Christians” even know their faith, Orthodox tenets? In my lifetime I’ve met hundreds of church people from various churches & to my horror discovered FEW Orthodox Christians even truly believe in Heaven, or in resurrection of Jesus!  What’s worse is I’ve even met uninspired married priests who are painfully mundane & admit to me regret being a priest but feel it’s too late!  
         We as Orthodox need to go deep & read The Desert?Fathers, the canonized Saints, the holy bible, the Philokalia, they all point to Not being too wed to this earth, to release this fascination with the world of matter.
        Also, few seek out a Spiritual Father, a staretz to guide them (it can even be a Spiritual Mother if she’s deeply holy or a nun like Mother Gavrilia who had disciples gather at her apartment in Greece before returning to monastery). Merely attending church on Sunday, receiving Eucharist & having coffee & cookies is not enough to reach THEOSIS.
        Look at our recently canonized Saint, the great Elder Paisios of Mount Athos – there were countless times he turned down worldly offers to be Bishop or Archbishop. Renunciation is the key — how you do it is up to you.

        • Gail Sheppard says

          I’m not trying to be contrary (I rather like that you are bringing these things up) but the people you are describing who do not believe in the after-life are not “Orthodox.” And if they do not believe in the after-life, they do not believe in the resurrection. And if they do not believe in the resurrection, they are not “Christian.”

          Priests are human beings who get burned out like the rest of us. They may feel it is too late to stop serving because it is the way they earn their living. I wouldn’t call it “worse.” I would call it human.

          There is this story the monks tell (I so wish I could do it justice here) about traveling clergy who went to a primitive island where the natives only knew the Jesus prayer. One of the visiting clergy remarked that the islanders failed to have even a rudimentary understanding of the things of God. But another, wiser man remarked that because they did this one thing with fervour, they were a lot closer to achieving theosis than any one of the visiting clergy on that boat.

          A caterpillar does not need to study or understand his metamorphous to become a butterfly. For some, receiving Eucharist & having coffee & cookies may be enough. Remember the story about the Centurion? It is faith that brings you in alignment with God. Studying it and renouncing the trappings of this world are not the key. Faith. Just faith.

          • George Michalopulos says

            Very well said, Dear.

          • Sage-Girl says

            Good point Gail with that monk story! Yes – even a blind person, even a simple illiterate person with no intellectual acumen – no bible training can become illumined by their open heart …their purity….
            so those church goers I mention who don’t really believe in our Lord etc, but enjoy church as a social “coffee house” you say they’re not Christians — but can we also say it’s possible they too might in future grow in the faith by “having coffee & cookies” time?
            Hey ya never know! And besides, only God knows our inner sanctum. As the monks from the holy mountain Mt. Athos told me to say to everything
            May It Be Blessed✨

            • Gail Sheppard says

              I like the expression you used: “Only God knows our inner sanctum.” So true.

  6. Paraskeva says

    This was one of the most powerful public instances of forgiveness I’ve seen:

  7. Michael Bauman says

    I prefer
    The Angel Cried

    The Angel cried to the Lady full of grace:
    Rejoice, O Pure Virgin.
    Again I say: Rejoice. Your Son is
    Risen from His three days in the tomb.

    Shine, shine, O New Jerusalem,
    For the glory of the
    Lord has shone on you.
    Exult now and be glad, O
    O Pure Theotokos, be radiant in the
    Resurrection of your Son.

  8. DeOppressoLiber says

    What do you tell a Combat Soldier about forgiveness? How do you counsel the men who depart in black assault helicopters 4 nights out of 7 in God-awful places like Afghanistan to kill really bad terrorists? Forgiveness comes from God. Everyone needs to do their job–soldier or civilian–and end each day having tried their best, not obsessing about forgiveness. You guys who tell stories of rape and abuse–your job is to get those wrongdoers behind bars, to assist the victims (and yourself) , and to protect your families and communities by any means necessary. Let God deal with forgiveness. Do your job first, which means protecting those who are created in the icon of Christ. Don’t get all mystical on us. We’re not saints. 

    • Antiochene Son says

      If we are not actively working to be saints, including denying our basic instincts, then we have no reason to exist. God created us for this. 
      Forgiveness is not just a matter for God; but “vengeance is mine, says the Lord.” 

    • Monk James Silver says

      You raise several important issues here, ‘DeOppressoLiber’.  Let’s think about one over-arching concern before we deal with at least some of the others, and that is the forgiveness which civilians are encouraged to offer to criminals who have hurt them in some way.
      Crime victims who survive rape or violence are deeply hut, and their wounds go far beyond physical injuries.  The emotional and even spiritual scars of their experiences are unlikely to go away for the rest of their lives.  Even if they —  as they should —  seek legal remedies and their attackers are imprisoned and punished under the terms of civil law, the law requires that they then let the matter go.  They may not seek vengeance without incurring legal penalties of their own.  This is a minimalist view of the process, which we all realize is a  very complicated matter for both victims and perpetrators.
      One of the ways in which Christians seek to make sense of the evil which they have been forced to suffer is to strive to forgive the people who have hurt them, and this is one way for them to heal.  This doesn’t mean that they excuse criminals or would have them ignored by civil law, but that they forgive them as they hope that God Himself will forgive us.
      It is important for us to realize that this forgiveness occurs interiorly, in the hearts and souls and minds of victims.  It ultimately doesn’t matter if the perpetrators ever become aware that their victims have forgiven them, but it’s wonderful  when that happens and it makes a difference for the better.
      This is a moral universe very different from the one in which we Christians are expected to behave when we see someone being attacked.  If we fail to help people when they are being attacked, we are just as guilty as the attacker —  a principle recognized even in civil law under the rubric of qui tacet consentire videtur (‘someone who keeps silent appears to consent’).
      We Christians, then, are required to help stop such attacks,  even physically if it comes to that, but we must never intentionally kill the attackers.  Knock them out with a blow, taser them,  shoot them in the knees —  whatever it takes —  but not intentionally kill them.  As Shakespeare wrote, ‘Forgiveness to the injured doth belong’, so only victims can forgive perpetrators;  forgiveness is not ordinarily an issue for those who intervene to help.
      But if aggressors are unintentionally killed in the process of defending those under attack, then those who intervene at the cost of taking human lives must confess that they have killed people.  This is morally different from murder, but (as distinguished even in civil law) it is still homicide, and it is culpable to one or another extent. 
      Just as civil law makes these distinctions, so does Christian morality.
      The ancient wisdom of The Church. notably as expressed in the canons of St Basil the Great, contemplates the realities experienced by soldiers who take human lives in war.  They are certainly not entirely free agents, given their oaths, but they must still act in accordance with their consciences.  There are many precedents on record describing soldiers who defied orders to kill people;  some were resolved in favor of the soldiers, and some in favor of the commanding officers, but that’s a situation a bit beyond our concerns here.  Let’s just say that nations (represented by their soldiers) are just as obligated to help other nations which are being unjustly attacked as are all of us as individuals.
      It is not up to the soldiers fighting on the side of righteousness to forgive anyone here, especially not nations (and their soldiers) who are doing evil.  
      Still, if the ‘good’ soldiers manage to take human lives, they must bring this to confession.  In most cases,  soldiers who kill people in war are ipso facto ineligible for ordination, although they may become monks.  While there are some respected moral authorities who disagree, St Basil wisely suggests that they should abstain from Holy Communion for at least three years,.  This might be best understood not so much as punishment as for a period in which such soldiers can return to more normal ways of being human.  Perhaps he was anticipating our modern concept of getting over ‘post-traumatic stress disorder’ (PTSD).

      • Antiochene Son says

        Not to get relativistic or derail things, but when it comes to matters like the Taliban and modern warfare, there is an element of relativism in it. The Taliban do bad things, but one could also say that occupying a foreign country for a generation for no real (or realistic) purpose, bombing and droning people, is also bad. We have people on both sides fighting each other who were not even born when the conflict started, and there is no possibility of victory in sight. Hardly just, even if the intentions are good from our point of view.
        One wonders what the military industrial complex is feeding our leaders when two successive administrations have gone in promising to end it, with the support of voters, and have not done so.

      • Michael Bauman says

        Monk James, excellent.

      • Sage-Girl says

        Superlative post Monk James…thanks for summing it up – my late husband was in U.S. Air Force + suffered PTSD… but one month before his death he wept telling me he had a visitation while alone in our home of Jesus Christ …
        He said Jesus took him on a journey + showed him a beautiful world … an unearthly world. I knew instantly God would take him soon + He did. May it be blessed.

      • I can say that my late mother in the occupation in Greece, was raped by italian soldiers in getting water from the well before curfew. I learnt this not long before she died. She was in last yr of occupation August 1944, aged 16, arrested by the tagmata asfalias, or fascist militia, that was formed from 1943 onwards to aid germans in fight against ( communist) partizans and torture by gestapo but survived.
        She carried these wounds to her death just a few yrs ago , but also a vast amount of LOVE and JOY FOR LIFE AND DEEP FAITH.

        • I would add my grandfather, her father, was from Kalavrita in Peloponisus,  where on 13/12/1943 the germans shot ALL the Men and boys from 12 upwards, getting on for 700 including  my relatives, and including priest, and locked females in the Church that they set on fire.  To visit there is to be face ro face with evil.

          • The cathedral has two clock towers. One tells the time. The other forever marks the time the Germans opened fire. It is very moving – more so when you know that Germanos was the bishop of Kalavrita who raised the flag of freedom in 1821.

            • Yes re clock. And my grandfather ‘ s village.   Germanos was the Bishop of Patras, my Birth city  actually.   He raised the flag of revolt at Mega Spilaio monastery, or Great  monastery of the caves,  close to Kalavrita.  In the war, after the Kalavrita massacre ,  The germans moved on, and burnt the  monastery and shot the monks.

              • Thanks for the correction. That’s what happens when I rely on memory and don’t check.

                • Brendan no problem.  I am so happy u knew about Kalavrita.  It was poignant for us all taking our late mother there.  I have a photo of that visit on table. .  

                  • It’s twenty-five years since I was there, having rode in on the crazy train up the gorge from Diakhofto. That was impressive enough, but Kalavrita Cathedral was… deeply moving.

                    • Yes it is a beautiful journey.  When i first went it so happened two German students came up to me to ask what had happened here???  
                      The large plaques contain our  family name.  U can understand how feel. 

                    • George Michalopulos says

                      Several decades ago, we met one of the survivors of that mass-shooting. He was a young man who was able to escape in the pandemonium.

    • George Michalopulos says

      DOL, very well said. At the end of the day, our job is to emulate the Good Samaritan and help that poor soul who had the crap kicked out of him. If could have found the malefactors who did that and bring them to justice, good on him; if not, at the very least bind the victim’s wounds.

    • There have been many comments before I could reply, but I will submit this anyway.
      DOL, you have some very good points. It is great to think of how “holy” one is to forgive, but what about the situation or the victims that need immediate action and protection. But I think there is forgiveness, in a way, if the execution statement “May God have mercy on your soul” is used instead of the modern action movie theme of “Die, you miserable cur, with generations and generations of family members, all your chickens and ducks, as I torch your very house.”

      Part of the problem in discussions like this is language, which influences thinking.

      It is common to link the words forgiveness and reconciliation, which is not only superficial but conceptually incorrect in many contexts. Unless in court, forgiveness is a personal, isolated, internal attitude usually of discarding resentment or need for repayment. Reconciliation is action, but not necessary the action that follows or should follow. I think that was the point of step 4 of the original article.

      To say this succinctly, I forgive rattle snakes (because I accept their basic nature and they are good for something), but I don’t play with them. In terms of humans, it is the chilling old fashioned statement, “There but for the grace of God go I.”

      On another level, way above my pay grade, if forgiveness and reconciliation are merged, then the debate on Universal Salvation heats up.

      By the way, there is similar confusion with the words judge and condemn. To judge as in to evaluate is a requirement.

  9. Michael Bauman says


    Mystery as used in the Church means hidden, not yet revealed. It does not mean insubstantial or less than real and present. It seems to me that you are using the word to mean less than real–something far off and not attainable. Each of us is, in fact, a possible saint but due to sin, few are revealed as such. Many more remain hidden to us and are seen only by God. That is a mystical reality that is as real and concrete as they come. God with us.

    But to your question:
    You counsel a combat soldier and policeman (those appointed by the state to kill when necessary) in repentance. Still we have to prepare them in forgiveness as well so that they do not become hardened and less human.

    Through anger, I recently forced a policeman to physically restrain me. Not proud of that, but it happened (I was being righteous don’t you know). When released me I looked into his eyes and saw there fear and something else I cannot quite name but it came close to “why did you make me do this”. He did his job, but he cannot become whole after even the small amount of violence I forced him to commit unless he forgives me the violence I perpetrated on him. That is a spiritual principal.

    I should have asked his forgiveness then and there but there was too much adrenaline and self-righteousness going on in me.

    It is not as simple as you make it out to be. A warrior, someone who elects to put himself on the line to protect us must also face not only his own mortality, but the reality that he puts his own soul at risk. That is why we need to diligently pray for those as the Church instructs us so that they may not be overtaken by evil while they do their jobs. That is our duty and responsibility. It is also why more than many, they must be counseled to forgive and repent.

    It is also our duty and responsibility to limit the state’s violence to the extent that we can by calling any excesses to account and setting clear standards for is authorized use.

    Although it can be blown out of proportion there is still a crime in this country of “driving while black/brown”. The proper resolution of that injustice is very difficult when our ideological world imputes unrighteousness to “everybody else but me” and calls down retribution on our ideological enemies.

    Chuck Schumer just the other day threatened sitting Justices of the Supreme Court in a manner that came close to a call to do them physical violence. Why, because they “might” allows some restrictions on abortion. Shoot, in the old days, he might have challenged them to duals. Instead he went all fakey Old Testament prophet. That threat is mystical in reality, it has yet to be revealed fully, but it is nonetheless there.

    Life is a mystical (hidden) reality of God becoming man so that we enter into union with Him. Our imposition of law and order can be and should be part of that mystical reality. That requires an on going effort at forgiveness/repentance. We do not live in a “secular” world with God removed from us. We live in a world that is interpenetrated by God’s person, grace and mercy but not yet fully redeemed. Saints are not removed from that reality any more than we are. We all share the same potentially sacred space that still reveals God to us as we have ears to hear and eyes to see.

    God is with us, let us rejoice and be glad in that.

    • Michael Bauman says

      As an addendum: I also have the responsibility to offer up the violence to God’s mercy that all those involved be healed. Which, thanks to this discussion, I will do more diligently. Glory to God.

  10. Gail,
    “There is this story the monks tell…”

    I don’t know whether we mean the same story, but there is a more “extreme” version I heard ages ago:

    A priest visits an island and talks to an illiterate shepherd:

    -“You should pray every day..”
    -“Yes”, says the shepherd, “I say, Lord have no mercy on me a sinner!”
    _”No, you should say the Lord’s Prayer!”
    -“How do I say that?”
    -” Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name…”
    The shepherd repeated that, and the priest went back to his boat.

    The boat was about 100 yards from the coast and the priest hears the voice of the shepherd,
    -“Priest, wait, what do I say after Who art in heaven?”

    The priest turns around and he sees the holy shepherd running on the top of the waves, waving and shouting.
    The priest waved back:
    “Shepherd, carry on with your own prayer!”

    • Gail Sheppard says

      Ioannis, this is a great one! Certainly much more powerful.

    • Archpriest Alexander F.C. Webster says

      That story is a benign, truly monastic version of Lev Tolstoy’s “satire” titled, “Three Elders” (or “Three Hermits”) in 1884.  I recommend Tolstoy’s mockery of an educated but presumptuous bishop and three simple, uneducated hermits on a remote island to everyone on this blog not as an inspirational short story (as casual readers often misinterpret the text), but rther as a classic example of anti-Orthodox bias by one of the “great” Russian writers. Tolstoy was virulently hostile to every aspect of the Russian Orthodox Church of his homeland and rejected the true Jesus Christ of the Gospels and the rest of Holy Tradition, preferring instead a concoction of his own mind who taught a simple ethical code that would usher in the “kingdom of God” (impersonal, that is) on earth.

      • Gail Sheppard says

        Yep.  Same story, alright.

        I must be a “casual reader,” because everything I have ever read about Tolstoy suggests he loved the Church.  Were he alive today, he would be railing against the EP for the very same reasons many of us are today.  He hated the notion of infallibility, something the Russian Orthodox Church toyed with during its period of Latinization.  So in rejecting the 19th century Russian Orthodox Church’s claim to infallibility, he was not actually rejecting Orthodox Christian doctrine.

        You might enjoy a play called, “The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord.”  It was written by Scott Carter,  a writer and producer, known for “Real Time with Bill Maher,” “Politically Incorrect (1993) and “Root of All Evil (2008).  He was also a friend of mine in high school. although I doubt you’ll read that in his bio anywhere.   https://www.amazon.com/According-Jefferson-Charles-Dickens-Tolstoy/dp/0822233207             

        • George Michalopulos says

          From my limited understanding of Tolstoy’s life, he did seem to reject much of basic Christianity for several years (decades?) as did his circle. However, if memory serves, while he was in the last stages of life, he undertook a grueling trip to Optina but was prevented by some of his followers.

          The fact that he wanted to make the arduous trip to that blessed monastic community, known world-wide for its spirituality, makes me wonder if the stories about his heretical beliefs were true or at the very least, whether he came to doubt them.

          It is perhaps wishful thinking on my part but I choose to believe that he was making a last-ditch effort to return to the faith of his fathers. I could be wrong however.

          • Archpriest Alexander F.C. Webster says

            Sorry to burst your Tolstoy bubble, Gail and George!

            By the time he wrote the short story “Three Hermits” in 1884, Tolstoy had crossed the Volga, as it were, and declared war on Russian Orthodoxy lock, stock, and barrel. His last novel, Resurrection published in 1899, was the last straw for the Russian Orthodox Church: the Church excommunicated Tolstoy two years later in 1901. As I said only yesterday to the 35 students in my undergraduate course on “Religious Themes in 19th Century Russian Literature” at George Mason University in northern Virginia, that dramatic decision of the ROC was, for Tolstoy himself ironically, a matter of supreme indifference.

            Elsewhere on monomakhos.com recently, I addressed the specious claim that Tolstoy had repented of his very public apostasy (not mere heresy, by the way) and tried to receive forgiveness from the monks at Optina Pustyn Monastery. Whatever his reasons for hoping to visit that holy place before he died in 1910, “repentance” and asking “forgiveness” for his many writings–both fiction and expository–that mocked, ridiculed, and distorted the truth about Orthodox Christian teachings and institutions were most probably not among them.

            I suggest that you read Resurrection yourselves (it’s only 482 pages in English translation–rather short by Russian standards!) and see why the Church had no choice but to declare Tolstoy unworthy of receiving the Holy Mysteries for the sake of his own soul and as a signal to the Russian Orthodox faithful that there are limits to public acts of sacrilege and blasphemy.

            • Monk James Silver says

              The ‘wise thief’ was granted Paradise in a single moment!
              Is it not possible that in the more than ten years between the publication of Resurrection and his death that Tolstoy had a change of heart?
              Let’s be grateful that we will not be judged by a professor, but by Christ our God, Whose judgement is perfect, Whose mercy is infinite, and Whose love is eternal.

              • I suggest you all read Solzenitsyn ‘s ‘The Red Wheel’.Its a few pages long, over three books!, but  well worth it. 

              • I am with you on this, Monk James. It is possible that Hitler and Stalin repented in their dying moments. Who are we to say they did not?

                • Solitary Priest says

                  We can’t say that they did not, but neither can we assume that they did. Even if the Russian urban legend that Stalin took confession and communion on his death bed is true, it doesn’t take away the fact that millions died because of him. In cases like this, we have to leave the forgiving to God. 
                       Just think; because Hitler and Stalin got slapped around by drunken, abusive fathers, millions of people died. What is sobering is that someone like myself might have turned out like them, if I didn’t encounter the church. I guess my proof for the existence of God is that I have been made aware of my own shortcomings. I still have a long way to go in overcoming them.

                • Monk James Silver says

                  Absolutely!  This is the whole point of the last line of St Ephraim’s Prayer, where he  has us beg the Lord for the clarity to see our own faults and not condemn (katakrinO) our brothers and sisters.

              • Tim R. Mortiss says


              • Archpriest Alexander F.C. Webster says

                Nobody said it was not “possible” for Lev Tolstoy, as he approached the end of his life, to repent of his apostasy and to beg forgiveness from the Church for his manifold written and oral sacrileges and blasphemies. Monk James is straining at a gnat of his own creation.

                What I wrote above is that such a renunciation at the age of 82 after a lifetime of promoting his own personal, “new religion,” as Tolstoy himself called it, was “most probably” not among the reasons that he had tried to visit Optina Pustyn Monastery in those waning days. That is a carefully nuanced statement. In any English lexicon, the phrase “most probably” is not identical to “impossible.” Of course, neither Monk James nor I have the competence or authority to judge souls.

            • Sage-girl says

              Archpriest Alexander Webster, yes it’s true Optina Elders had enough of Leo Tolstoy trashing the church, among other things. It was the great holy Elder Ambrose who was most disgusted by him.
              Elder Ambrose is reputed to be the brilliant “anonymous” author of Orthodoxy’s greatest classic:              The Way Of A Pilgrim.
              Seems to me, what Tolstoy really wanted in his heart of hearts, but could never achieve was to be an ascetic Monk — probably felt trapped in that infamous miserable marriage at the end of his life

    • The Movie!

      ‘You are Three. We are Three.’

      Part 1

      Part 2

      • Sage-girl says

        Thanks Ioan – great YouTube orthodoxy !
        That’s best part of high tech world – access to so much spiritual orthodoxy