169 - What Does Forgiveness Really Mean?
April 15, 2011 Length: 42:14
We ask God to forgive our sins and God tells us that His forgiveness is conditional on our forgiveness of others. But what does forgiveness really mean? Does it mean forgetting the offense entirely, or is it the intention to forgive that matters? What if we forgive, but the bitterness or the memory of the sin or offense comes back - have we not truly forgiven? Are we to repent of our sin once, or is it a continual process? These and other questions are the topic of the next Illumined Heart with guest Rev. Fr Tom Soroka.
Kevin Allen: Along with the command to repent, forgiveness is another commandment that we, as Orthodox Christians, are called to practice on an ongoing basis. We ask for God’s forgiveness every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer. But forgiveness is conditional upon us forgiving others who mistreat us, and in fact, forgiveness is so important that the Orthodox Church has a special service that liturgically begins Great Lent, called Forgiveness Sunday, when parish communities gather and ask each other, personally, face to face, to forgive any sins or transgressions committed throughout the year. It is quite a humbling and powerful way to acknowledge our sinfulness, and to begin the period of purification known as Great Lent.
For many of us, there are a myriad questions about forgiveness. What does it really mean? How far does it really go? What does it really mean? Must we really mean it? How much contrition must we feel? How do we do it? These are questions we will discuss in this program.
My guest on the program today is Father Thomas Soroka. Father Tom was raised in the Orthodox Church. He is the rector of St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, OCA, in McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania, which is near Pittsburgh. Father Tom is the host of the AFR program, The Path, and his sermons can be heard, as well, on Sermons of St. Nicholas, also heard on Ancient Faith Radio. Father Tom is also heard regularly on Pittsburgh’s largest Christian radio station, 101.5 Word FM. Father Tom is also contemplating writing a book on the subject of forgiveness.
It is my pleasure to welcome you, Father Tom Soroka. Welcome to the Illumined Heart.
Father Thomas Soroka: Hi Kevin, it is so nice to be with you. I am a big fan of your program.
Kevin: Thank you. You are very kind. Thank you so much.
Let’s begin with the obvious. Father Tom, how does the Bible define forgiveness?
Fr. Thomas: You know, Kevin, there is not necessarily a definition for forgiveness; however, what we must look at is, I would say, the example that God gives of forgiveness, and what He promises when he forgives sins. So we can imply that forgiveness is the removal of the effects of sin, but even just as important, it is also the restoration of the one who repents. In the church, when we say that God forgives our sins, we say that whatever those effects are, the Bible says that the effects of sin is death.
We are removing the effects of sin when we are forgiven by God, and we are restored, just as in the parable we heard in the pre-Lenten services, of the father who forgives the prodigal son his sin, we are restored to our life as it should be in Christ. When we promise to forgive someone else, we are, in essence, doing the same thing. We are promising to not pursue the effects of those sins, and we also promising to restore that person to a life of communion with us.
Kevin: A wonderful definition. Thank you so much. I appreciate that. I have heard that, as an example, repentance is as much a gift, as it is an intentional act, and I wonder if forgiving and being forgiven, are likewise gifts. Can they occur in an absolute sense, without God’s grace, Father Tom?
Fr. Thomas: I do not think anything is possible in the Christian life without God’s grace. If we look at everything we do, from repentance, from our fasting, prayer, almsgiving, we are always cooperating with God. We are always doing things not in our own strength, but in fact, in the grace of God. Certainly, if we are forgiving someone, we have to do that in the spirit of God and the power of God, with the help of the grace of God.
I cannot imagine, really, a more difficult thing than forgiving someone, than saying that I have this intentional desire to put the effects of the sin behind me, whether it is someone that has grievously hurt me, or whether it is someone that I have hurt, and asking God for that grace, because we are, actually, kind of a stiff-necked people. We are an unforgiving people.
It is only by God’s grace that we are able to do this miraculous act, this gift of forgiveness that we can give someone. Of course, God tells us, with all of these difficult things, whether it is overcoming sin, or whether it is forgiving someone, as in the scriptures it is said, “Who then can be saved?” And God said, “With God all things are possible.”
Kevin: You are right. Forgiveness, I think, is one of those acts that we are called to that is very difficult. It is difficult to do. It is difficult, in some cases, to even receive forgiveness, to allow oneself to be forgiven. Does forgiveness, Father Tom Soroka, necessarily mean ceasing to feel, for an example, resentment or anger against the perpetrator of the offense? Another way of asking, can you truly forgive while you are still feeling resentment, hurt, or anger toward the perpetrator?
Fr. Thomas: I think that for humans, forgiveness will most likely be a process. It will be a process of growth that both the offended and the offender are going to go through. In the case of someone who desires to forgive someone who has offended them, this intentional act of forgiveness may not actually result in someone feeling completely relieved of these feelings of anger or resentment.
However, let’s take a step back and think about God, Himself. The example, the icon, the image, of the one who forgives, for us, is God, Himself. The Lord, Jesus Christ, said, “Be merciful, as your heavenly Father is merciful.” We are to forgive, in fact, in the way that God forgives. If I think about how God forgives me, or the way in which I want God to forgive me, that should be the way in which I want to forgive someone who has offended me. We could never imagine God, Himself forgiving us, but somehow still feeling resentment, or feeling anger. It is God’s mercy, it is God’s love, that that motivates forgiveness, that motivates the desire to not dwell on past sins.
For the one who is seeking repentance, they are begging God, and begging this person, to remit the results of this sin, and so the person that is actually forgiving should really pursue the desire to have peace in their heart, to remove anger and bitterness and clamor from their heart. Psychologically, we know that it will take time, and it will take effort, and it will take, certainly, the grace of God, but ultimately, yes, that is the goal, to completely eradicate those resentments from our hearts.
Kevin: To follow up on that, Father Tom Soroka, other than in sincere prayer to have those feelings obliterated in us, if you will, by the grace of God, are there any other tips, or things that you have learned through the years as a pastor, that would, perhaps, help people who want to let go of these feelings, these resentments and these hurts, but maybe can’t, that it may be their intention to, but perhaps they just can’t figure out quite how to get it done?
Fr. Thomas: I think everyone is on a little bit of a different path there, and everyone has different temperaments and different ways of dealing with that. If we are constantly replaying in our heads those particular things that have occurred to us, or against us, then we will never be able to get past those things and move on in peace with our lives.
I have, unfortunately, been following many of the comments on the internet of various things that have happened in the Church, and there is this somehow decrying of Bishops or priests who would say, “You know, we really need to move on with our lives,” as if to say that we have dismissed the tremendous effects that someone being sinned against has had on them.
In fact, we are not, but what we are saying is that if we truly forgive, and if we are seeking God’s forgiveness, then there is a time when we must say, just like God, Himself, says, that He will remember our sins no more. If God doesn’t remember our sins anymore, then it is our goal, our hope, and our desire, that eventually we would come to the point in our lives where those sins of others no longer beset us.
Absolutely, it is important that we try our best, but we give ourselves time, and we give ourselves patience, we pray on this particular subject. Eventually, maybe we could establish communion with that person again, and reach out to them so that we are actually physically present with them, maybe even serving them in a particular way, in which we are humbling ourselves before someone who has offended us. In this way, we are able to replace our heart of stone with a heart of flesh, and actually express what Christ says in the scriptures—love for our enemies.
Kevin: We hear words like that and sometimes they wash over us because we have heard them so often, but I guess you are right. Loving our enemy is the way that forgiveness is ultimately expressed, isn’t it? And that is very, very difficult, though, Father, I would think, for serious offenses, in which people have really been hurt, and we will return to that in a moment.
How much feeling or emotion must there be in forgiveness on both sides? Is forgiveness, as an example, efficacious simply as an intention? Or must one also feel deep contrition?
Fr. Thomas: Let’s think about love, itself. Let’s think about love in a marriage, or love in a relationship. We know that human feelings are variable. At times, we feel great love for our spouse, or we feel great love for our priest, or love for our neighbor. There are other times when we have to remind ourselves that we have committed ourselves to this love, whether we feel it or not.
In the case of forgiveness, this is, in a way, a commitment that we are making. We are making a commitment to treat this person in a way in which we remember their sins no more, in which we don’t bring that sin to the forefront, in which that sin does not define our relationship with one another.
If we are willing to do that, then we have to remind ourselves, at the times when anger or bitterness or resentment will well up in us, just like that marital compact, in which we say, “I am committed to loving this person. Maybe I don’t feel it today. I’m committed to forgiving this person. Maybe I don’t feel it today. God, please help me to see the image of God in this person, this person who has hurt me, this person who is resentful toward me. Left me be released from the bondage of this anger and this bitterness so that we can move forward in Christian love.”
Kevin: Father, you mentioned something that resonates with me. I have been reading some work on the impact of lack of forgiveness, even in the world of medicine and health. We are truly bound by our lack of forgiveness. It apparently has very negative health impacts, even, in addition to the spiritual impacts that we are speaking about.
Fr. Thomas: I know very specific examples of people who have literally become consumed with bitterness and anger, and it has caused, as you said, health problems in themselves, mental problems, psychological issues, in which they have allowed that bitterness to spill over into other areas of their lives, or in their work, or in their family. Just from the psychological standpoint, let alone the Christian standpoint, there is tremendous benefit from simply allowing ourselves the ability to be free from the bondage of bitterness.
I don’t want to be misunderstood, and I don’t want to minimize the impact of someone’s sin, especially if it is a very serious sin. But on the other hand, we do ourselves no good if we are constantly holding onto that. I think that, especially in our American culture, there is an emphasis on the rights that we have to see this person pay, and so forth. But in fact, in a way, at least in a Christian sense, we are releasing ourselves from this type of vengeance and we are putting our trust in the words of Christ, in the words of God, Himself, who said, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” It is important that we keep all of these promises of God, and understand that God, Himself, will be the one who ultimately will repay all sin.
Kevin: We have been speaking about forgiveness and offenses and sins, and of course, Father Thomas Soroka, there are degrees of those. There are sins in which I just gossip or slander someone, which is certainly not a good thing, it is a bad thing, and I need to repent of it, but there are the serious offenses in which people are often haunted psychologically by the effects of divorce, of betrayals, of serious slander and gossip, of sexual abuse, marital infidelity, etc.
We have been speaking about this some, but I am wondering if you have any particular keys to how folks deal with the memories, and how are we to think about a person who has, perhaps, sexually abused us, or left us, and betrayed the family, ripped us off in terms of financial ways, in which the very recollection of that person and the situation causes a strong negative reaction or passion in us.
Fr. Thomas: Of course, our passions are ours to control, and so, whether it be minor sins, or major sins, I think that, really, the answer is the same, the prescription is the same, that we would pray for those who hurt us and harm us. In this particular situation, given some of examples that you gave, that may be, in itself, something that happens with much time and with much effort, very far down the road.
This is not the same as the rite of forgiveness that we might have with one another the evening before the beginning of great Lent. This is something that would have to be worked on with a trusted counselor and with a priest, to be able to get to the point where they can actually get through the day without grappling with painful memories and with the difficulties that sin will damage in someone who is victimized by sin.
We would also state that in our Orthodox theological understanding, at the beginning of Lent, we pray the Canon of St. Andrew, in which it is very, very clear that sin, in a way, even victimizes the one who is sinning. It victimizes the one who is perpetrating the sin. They have not been able to resist the temptation to sin. They have succumbed to the crafty wiles of the devil, and have been shot by his arrows, it says, in the canon of St. Andrew. So there is a lot of pain to go around, and there are a lot of very difficult and painful things in both the sinner and the one who is sinned against.
We have to be careful not to pay lip service to this, and I mean this very, very much, Kevin. This is a matter in which, I think, we too often say, “Well, I forgive them, but…” and then there is always some kind of condition on this. We must be able to forgive in the way we have certitude that God forgives. All of us are sinners, in fact, and if we think about what we are expecting of God, and what He thinks of our sin when we ask forgiveness, then we must try to go down the same path. We must try to exercise in ourselves, by His grace, this same graciousness to pour out on someone else.
But the greater the sin, the greater the effort, and the more difficult it will be, and the more time it will take, and the more prayer and fasting, and reaching out to those who can help us, and those whom we can trust to advise us and to comfort us in those times when it is very difficult to let go of painful, painful memories.
Kevin: Father, I know that married people will relate to this next question, and often, when we forgive, or have been forgiven by our spouse, situations come up in our married lives, and in our interactions, that call up the underlying issues, the so-called hot button issues, that we thought were forgiven, and these will tend to come up all over again. Does that necessarily mean that we are still holding on and have not forgiven?
Fr. Thomas: I think that this is, again, an example of the difficulties of forgiveness, and the realities of forgiveness. When two people are committed to one another, and one has forgiven the other of this difficult sin in a family, if that sin keeps cropping up, or the memory, I should say, of it, held against the person who has sinned, they have to maybe gently remind that person, “Hey, you know, I have asked your forgiveness, and I am begging your forgiveness again. Let’s please grow with one another in Christ. Let’s grow in God’s love, in our love for one another. We have made this commitment. We have made this promise to one another. If there is something that I haven’t done, please tell me now, and I will redouble my efforts to ask your forgiveness.”
In the scriptures, one thing that we have to remember is that the scriptures also talk about bearing the fruits of repentance, so in a relationship, in a marital relationship, or in a broader relationship of one who has sinned against someone else, the sinner who is forgiven by the one who is victimized, needs to be bearing the fruits of repentance. They need to be redoubling their efforts to be more humble, to show those fruits of repentance, to show themselves to be worthy of that person’s love, to be free from the previous sin that they have committed. I think that, I would hope that, bearing that fruit of repentance would be a sufficient example to the person who was harmed by sin, and that they would be able to go on together in that relationship together in Christ.
Kevin: Father Tom Soroka, let’s flip sides here. We have been speaking some about being the one who forgives, and we have talked some about being forgiven, but I would like to focus a little bit on the latter here. When we have offended someone and asked for them to forgive us, and forgiveness is given, what is our attitude and awareness supposed to look and feel like in terms of how we forgive ourselves? Are we simply to move on? I know sometimes we often continue to condemn ourselves for the wrongs we have committed. I know I do. Are we supposed to give ourselves that break and assume that it has been forgiven and forgotten, or do we continue to repent over it?
Fr. Thomas: I think that there are different models of repentance in the scriptures and in our hagiography. We certainly have the repentance of the thief on a cross, and we sing on Holy Thursday that the thief was forgiven in a moment. His repentance was sufficient to Christ, to acknowledge his sin. And I would say that, by the way, there is no repentance without an acknowledgement of sin, without a verbal, open acknowledgement of sin. It has to be done, of course, in the church today. It has to be done to the priest. It should be openly acknowledged to the priest who is representing the entire church.
The reason why we don’t acknowledge sins to the entire church is that we, unfortunately, no longer live in a situation where we share everything in common. We don’t share our finances completely in common. We don’t live in the same place. We are living in a different time, and in a different way, so we repent accordingly. We repent to the priest, who is standing in the person of the entire church.
This repentance, this acknowledgement, I would say, certainly must be heartfelt. It has to have the certitude, the sorrow, that one has done wrong, the acknowledgement that one has done wrong. If we think about David, in the scriptures, when the prophet Nathan confronted David, Nathan very craftily told him a story about lambs, and then he pointed out to David, “You are the perpetrator of this sin.” And David, immediately, who had thought that he had hidden his sin, when confronted by Nathan, acknowledged his sin before Nathan, and then recognized later on that even the effects of those sins were still with him.
To those who have sinned, we would say, “Yes, your remorse, your repentance, must be real, and it must be heartfelt, and it must be continuous. But also know that the effects of your sin may actually continue on long after you have acknowledged that sin.” So yes, there may be a time when we are looking at many, many years of constantly acknowledging and constantly repenting over that sin.
Kevin: That explains to me why, perhaps, we continue to repent, because the forgiveness may have been given, but the effect might continue on. That’s good. Thank you very much for that.
Father, we have talked some about the demand, or the seeking of justice. I have a question that somebody gave me who knew that I was going to have this conversation with you. She asks, “What about the desire for justice?” We have talked about it some. People yearn for it, if not an eye for an eye, then some kind of worldly justice, wanting the perpetrator to “feel my pain,” so to speak. What, exactly, can we do to get past this inclination once and for all?
Fr. Thomas: I want to say a few different things. First of all, I think, in terms of worldly justice, when we are speaking of the world, and when we are speaking of the government, we cannot deny this. The Lord, Jesus Christ, said, “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and render unto God the things that are God’s.” It is actually the duty of the government to bear the sword, to keep order in society, to even punish offenders. If there is a crime that is committed, then we must, in fact, allow that process to move forward.
Our church, about three months ago, was damaged by vandals and it was robbed, and we had to move forward with the court process, and we cannot deny this. This keeps order in our society and this is the ability of the government to bear the sword. However, on the other hand, I would also like to say that in my reading of the scriptures, Kevin, there is a reminder by Christ that in the new covenant, we see things a little bit differently.
We see things covered with mercy.
Jesus said in the scriptures, “You have seen it written, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth, but I tell you,” and he redefines it, he says, “If someone is harming you, turn the other cheek. Don’t resist an evil-doer.” This probably is the most difficult thing of all. He also says, by the way, “God stated, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’” Go and learn what this means.” He was pointing, specifically, to the Pharisees, who were extremely dedicated to the promulgation of the law and the prescriptions of the law, and if you did this, then you must have justice meted out against you.
This particular line that says, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice,” another way that we can think about it is that in the Old Testament, sacrifice was an iconic representation of justice. It was saying, “You know, when you sin, something has to die. Sin is death, and so if you commit this particular sin, for example, if you murder someone, then you have to die.” However, in the case of the new covenant, Jesus said, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.” So we are not necessarily constantly looking for sacrifice. We are not constantly looking for justice, but we are calling out to God, who is the lawgiver, and we say, “Vengeance is His. He will repay.” And we are allowing an opportunity for repentance. We are allowing an opportunity for mercy.
In the case of the world, let the wheels of justice turn in the world. But in the case of the church, and in the case of our own lives, instead of seeking vengeance against someone, we must look for mercy, and we must look for the desire to forgive, in fact.
Kevin: Father Tom, you mentioned secular justice and rendering to Caesar. My reading of St. Paul, the apostle, in I Corinthians 6, though, leads me to believe that he, at least, is teaching that believers should not turn to secular courts to resolve their differences when it comes to lawsuits among believers, Christian against Christian. Am I reading the correctly? What about legal action in those cases?
Fr. Thomas: I don’t think there is any other way to read it. I think that St. Paul said that we should not take one another to court. It is maybe only just a sign of the fallenness of the world, a sign of how hard our hearts have become when we take one another to court, or when we feel that we have no other redress.
I would say, if that is the first move that someone makes, this is just sort of pure evil. However, if someone feels that they have gone through the proscription of the church’s order of canon law, and they feel that they have not been treated fairly, then sometimes perhaps that is the only way they will feel that they can truly have this matter resolved in an equitable fashion.
I would caution our listeners to understand the proscription of St. Paul, to understand why it is that he tells us not to go to the courts, and encourage the church to have effective means. Sometimes this is actually the problem, Kevin, that there are not effective means within the church to resolve disputes. If there were effective means, maybe we would not have the necessity to take one another to court.
Kevin: That is interesting, which leads me to a bit of a tricky area here, because, as we both have been implying in our conversation, there are some institutional issues going on within the Orthodox Church right now. How about institutional offenses and wrongdoing within the church by hierarchs or clergy? How is that supposed to be dealt with, in the context of this forgiveness that we are speaking about?
You mentioned the blogs, and I, too, have read them, and have been reading them, and while we speak about forgiveness, I often see on these blogs that oftentimes there is a very harsh, bitter and angry tone. People seem to want a pound of flesh, and almost poo-pooing, if you will, forgiveness. My question is, where is the line to be drawn between accountability, justice and forgiveness for church leaders and clergy, specifically, when it comes to wrongdoing that affects the flock?
Fr. Thomas: When someone is ordained, they sign up, they literally sign on the dotted line, knowing that they will submit to the will of the church, the will of the bishops, and whatever punishment is meted out to them, and by the way, this is very, very scriptural, to be able to deal with sin within the church, that this must happen, and this must happen in a fair and an equitable way.
But I would also perhaps remind ourselves, and it is something that we said at the beginning, which is that one of the aspects of forgiveness that is constantly overlooked, is the idea of restoration. I think about the apostle Peter, who denied the Lord, Jesus Christ, three times. Of course, when Jesus told him, on the night before his death that he would deny him three times, Peter said it would never happen, and then he denied him three times.
And then we find in the gospel of John that Jesus restored him, actually, three times. “Do you love me? Feed my sheep. Do you love me? Feed my sheep. Do you love me? Feed my lambs.” When we are looking at institutional wrongdoing, again, I think the same thing applies if there are crimes committed, then the government will, and must, step in, and we must cooperate with the government to be able to seek the proper treatment of that particular crime that is committed.
However, we do not believe in some kind of outcasting for those who have repented of their sins. I am not only speaking of those within the church who are, let’s say, non-clerics, or laity. By the way, I would say, Kevin, as a priest, it is almost unheard of today, whereas, the canonical tradition of the church is for proscriptions for the treatment of everyone that has done wrong in the church, but it is almost unheard of in the church to treat anyone who has sinned, if they are not clergy, and I think this is something that has to be addressed, also.
However, going back to clergy, we have to eventually get to the point where we are actually looking at restoring someone to ministry, maybe not to the same ministry that they had. Maybe they have damaged that so much that it is not possible to restore them to that particular ministry. However, every day, we pray this psalm of David, by the way, the same David that committed murder, and committed adultery, or certainly implicated in murder, and we say, “Restore to me the joy of Thy salvation.” That restoration is just as important for anyone else.
Think about the very interesting situation in I Corinthians and II Corinthians. I don’t know if you are familiar with this particular scripture, but in I Corinthians, there was a man who was having a sexual relationship with his step-mother, and everybody knew about it. St Paul said, “You have to throw this person out of the church, you cannot permit this.”
Then in II Corinthians, he says, “Okay, that’s enough punishment. The punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such a man, so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow. Therefore, I urge you to reaffirm your love to him.”
In other words, we can never say, “I forgive him, but I will never restore him to fellowship, or I will never restore him to the point where he is welcomed back into the community in a place where he can serve.” In fact, the example of Peter is proof positive that you can be restored. David was restored. He was never not made king. He was still king, and in fact, he had a child with the woman, Bathsheba, whose name was Solomon, who also became king.
It is important that we remember, with our forgiveness comes the promise, the certitude, that we will restore someone. We are not going to restore someone and not use any discernment. We are not going to restore someone so that they can just commit that sin again. But we restore someone with the hope that we will also restore the joy of their salvation.
Kevin: As we are coming to a close, Father Tom Soroka, maybe you can clarify, as my final question, something that perplexes many people I know, and that is, in Mark 3:2, we read about the one offense for which we cannot be forgiven, and that is, the blaspheming of the Holy Spirit. People have different opinions about what that means. What does that mean, in our patristic understanding?
Fr. Thomas: Yes, I wish there was one understanding of that. As often happens in the fathers, there are many, many different viewpoints and different opinions. I think if we look at that scripture, and it is actually mentioned several times in the gospels, Christ is pointing out the Pharisees who were so hard-hearted, that they were unwilling to accept that anything that Christ did was actually of God. In fact, they said he had a demon. They said he did these things by Beelzebub.
This idea that there is a point where someone gets to, where they are simply unwilling to open their hearts and open their minds to the work of God, and open their hearts to the working of the Holy Spirit in them, as in the Old Testament when it refers to the hardness of Pharaoh’s heart. We also have the hardness of someone who is unwilling to see the reality of the work of God right in front of them when it is given to them.
This, we would say, is certainly one way to see this blaspheming of the Holy Spirit, this inability to acknowledge the work of God, the truth of God, and the things that God does in someone’s life. It is to have such a hard heart, and we would even perhaps bring it back to the beginning and say, if we have such a hard heart that we are unwilling to forgive someone, then we may, in fact, be committing a sin that will not be forgiven by God.
When our heart is unwilling to accept the truth, and accept the mercy of God and the working of God, then maybe we have committed that one sin that God will not forgive, that is, the sin of a black heart, of an unrepentant heart, that is not willing to see the work of God, and the truth of God, that is happening plainly, right in front of them.
Kevin: I always thought that what that verse meant in terms of ascribing the work of God to Satan or Beelzebub as being exactly that, when you attribute what is clearly of God to Satan, that is unforgiveable.
Fr. Thomas: I certainly think that that would be the contextual understanding within the scriptures. But I would say the greater picture is simply to say that someone whose heart is so dark, and is so closed, to not be open to the work of God, to not be open to what God is showing them very, very plainly, this is, in fact, denying the work of the Holy Spirit, and therefore God cannot forgive someone, God cannot acknowledge someone who is unwilling to acknowledge him. He is never going to force someone or coerce someone into the Kingdom of God. It must be someone who is willing, who is open to His love, His mercy, His truth, and His work.
Kevin: My guest on the program today has been Father Thomas Soroka. He is the rector of St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania. Father Tom, this has been a beautiful conversation. Thank you very much for helping us to work through this very important subject of forgiveness.
Fr. Thomas: I am grateful for your time, Kevin. Please keep up the good work.
Kevin: Thank you.
Fr. Thomas: Thank you, Kevin.
"May our gracious God bless your earnest loving efforts in sharing with us all the great spiritual beauty of our holy Orthodox faith. May the grace of the Holy Spirit continue to guide you!"