We’ve already discussed how the ascetic aspect of Lent, although it might seem to be a burden, is really about freedom. As Raimundo Panikkar once wrote, “True asceticism begins by eliminating the fear of losing what can be lost. The ascetic is the one who has no fear.”
There are many things that we might have to leave behind. In the following sermon, delivered on Forgiveness Sunday of this year (I’m rather late in posting it), Bishop Basil of Sergievo discussed how we can never really be free until we also forgive others. And we will never be able to forgive others until we first experience the forgiveness of God. The Bishop began by reminding us that the goal of our lives is nothing less than resurrection, which, after all, is freedom from the power of death (Heb 2:14-15):
Now where does forgiveness fit in to this pattern? Let us look at Christ’s life. Let us look at the Crucifixion and let us hear what he says from the Cross: ‘Father, forgive, for they know not what they do’ (Lk 23:34). Forgiveness is a stage on the path to resurrection, not only for Christ, but for us. With this, of course we need forgiveness – so in those people who are in the process of killing him he shows us the Father because the Father is there willing and ready to forgive – but if he shows us the Father, he shows us also ourselves. When Christ says, ‘Be ye perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect’ (Mt 5:48), he includes in that forgiveness. So part of this whole process which leads to Christ’s Resurrection and our resurrection in Christ is forgiveness.
Resurrection is freedom. Christ says, ‘I have overcome the world’ (Jn 16:33): that is, there is nothing in the world as fallen that holds me back. We see in that his complete freedom, and the ability to forgive is part of that freedom which Christ has come to give to us. Until we are able to forgive someone we are tied to them. They actually control our lives, they control how we react – but when we have forgiven them, then we are free. That freedom is one of the foretastes of resurrection which each one of us can experience.
But what we do not notice, and what is perhaps not as clear in our consciousness as it might be, is the relationship between repentance and forgiveness. Forgiveness is an aspect of God’s perfection to which we are called by Christ. But the being that is called to perfection is a fallen being – a being that has turned away from God. And the way back to God is by turning again – by repentance, by living another and different life. Indeed I would say that in order to forgive we must already be part of this process of repentance – of turning back towards God – because that forgiveness that we see is in fact an attribute of God.
So what I would like to say is that not only do we combine on this day the commemoration of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise which marks the beginning of the Fast, just as Christ’s Resurrection marks the end of it and sets before us the goal for which we are striving, but that the use of Confession – the introduction of repentance – at this point in the Fast and throughout the Fast, is an integral part of that whole process. We need to repent, to change. We need to change in order to forgive. If we just continue as we have been, we will never end up forgiving. We will continue as we are. But no, we need to change, and change is repentance, change is accelerated and brought to life by our going to Confession.
So let us look forward to the Paschal celebration when we hear in the hymns, ‘Let us forgive one another in the Joy of the Resurrection’. We begin that process now, and we will experience its fullness at the celebration of the Resurrection of Christ.