For the peace from above and for the salvation of our souls, let us pray to the Lord.
Jesus answered: “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” (John 3:3)
Jesus speaks to us about being ‘born again’ or ‘born from above’ – which Orthodoxy has understood as the spiritual and heavenly birth given us in baptism. The phrase “from above” does occur at various times in Orthodox liturgical prayers as in the petition of the litany listed above. We come to experience the forgiveness we offer to others as the peace from above. St. Isaac of Nineveh writes:
Consider the forgiveness of your debtors in these things as a work of righteousness. Then you will see peace exult in your mind from two sides: namely when you are above propriety and justice in your way, and you yield to freedom in all things. (On Ascetical Life, p. 65)
For St Isaac when someone decides to forgive, they decide that mercy trumps judgment (James 2:13). In forgiveness, we decide to forego retribution, justice or even validation for one’s hurt because of the offense. You choose freedom from the demands of justice.
Forgiveness Sunday is our time to choose the peace from above, to let go the demands of justice and validation and to love another as God loves us. We enter into Great Lent with the intention to live the Gospel. “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14). We offer to others what we want from God.
The second theme, that of forgiveness, is emphasized in the Gospel reading for this Sunday (Matthew 6:14-21) and in the special ceremony of mutual forgiveness at the end of Vespers on Sunday evening. Before we enter the Lenten fast, we are reminded that there can be no true fast, no genuine repentance, no reconciliation with God, unless we are at the same time reconciled with one another. A fast without mutual love is the fast of demons. As the commemoration of the ascetic saints on the previous Saturday has just made clear to us, we do not travel the road of Lent as isolated individuals but as members of a family. Our asceticism and fasting should not separate us from our fellow men but link us to them with ever stronger bonds. The Lenten ascetic is called to be a man for others. (The Lenten Triodion, p. 47)