#89 The Freedom of Forgiveness
St Dionysios of Zakynthos is a powerful example of forgiveness. He shows us how forgiveness can free us to be who God made us to be, rather than trapping us and defining us by our sins and shortcomings.
1) Should we always accept apologies?
2) What does forgiving someone do for you?
3) Does Confession really count if we aren’t sincere with our apologies? Can we Confess our sins and not be forgiven?
Hey everybody, this is Steve and forgiveness frees us to be who we're meant to be. When I checked my phone this morning, I saw tons of posts for "Take Me Back to IV" Day, when alumni of Ionian Village, our Archdiocesan summer camp in Greece, remember and share incredible experiences. That's happening today because it's December 17th, the feast day of Saint Dionysios of Zakinthos, the patron saint of Ionian Village. So while IV alumni look back at their incredible experiences at camp, the most important thing they'll remember is their relationship with Christ and how Ionian Village and its patron saint have strengthened them.
Saint Dionysios is an incredible example of selfless, Christ-centered love, like all the Saints. And he in particular can teach us the critical role that forgiveness plays in our Christian Lives because of one amazing story that I want to share with you. Now, we've talked about forgiveness before on "Be the Bee" and if you haven't checked out those episodes yet, you really should. But today, we're not going to talk about why forgiveness is important or what it really means. Instead, we're going to focus on how forgiveness can transform the life of the person being forgiven. On to the story.
Saint Dionysios became a monk at a very young age and one day, a man came to him in the monastery, distressed and desperately in need of help. He confessed that he killed someone and that the victim’s family was tracking him down. During the course of the conversation, it became clear that the victim was Saint Dionysios' brother. The Saint was crushed. I mean, how would you respond if someone confessed to killing your brother? As if that wasn't enough, the man then asked Saint Dionysios to help hide him so the family couldn't find him. Saint Dionysios had a choice. He could seek justice and deliver the man to the police, to be arrested and face trial. He could seek vengeance, and deliver the man to the angry family or even take matters into his own hands.
Yet, Saint Dionysios didn't choose either of these options. He chose mercy, he chose love, he chose life. He chose to help the man that killed his brother. So when the victim’s family arrived, which remember, was Saint Dionysios' family too. When they arrived at the monastery, he hid the man and sent his pursuers in the wrong direction. He lied to his family about where his brother’s killers went, to save this man, this murderer that he never met before. Except Saint Dionysios didn't see this man as just a murderer. The Saint did not define the man by a single sin, no matter how terrible it was.
He didn't let a single mistake from the man’s past determine the course of his future. Rather than label the man a murderer, rather than condemn him to a prison cell, or even worse, the hands of an angry mob, Saint Dionysios did something incredible. He loved, had mercy on him and even forgave him. Because when Saint Dionysios looked at the man, he saw him for who he really is, not a murderer, but an icon of Christ, made in the image and likeness of God. He saw him with the eyes of a bee. Saint Dionysios did not ignore the man’s sin, he saw it and loved him anyway. But this wasn't just emotional love, it was true Christ-centered love. So after the family went in the direction Saint Dionysios pointed, he admonished the man concerning his sin.
When he saw the man, he didn't focus on his sin, because that's just a chapter in the larger story of the man's life. A man created by God, not for sin or death but for eternal life in God's Kingdom. Saint Dionysios saw him as an icon of Christ though, an icon obscured by sin. And he gave the man the tools he needed to recover, to acknowledge his sin, to repent, and then to start moving back towards Christ. Saint Dionysios freed the man, to be who God meant him to be, which is exactly what the man did. Years later, he joined Saint Dionysios at the monastery and became a monk. By forgiving the man who killed his brother, Saint Dionysios eventually gained a brother in Christ, and God's Kingdom received another prodigal son home.
Would this have happened if the family caught up with him and the man spent his last moments suffering at the hands of an angry mob? Would it have happened if Saint Dionysios, the man he turned to for help, instead turned on him? I'm not so sure. I think the man began to approach Christ because he saw Christ in the love that Saint Dionysios showed him, because, improbably, the Saint first saw Christ in him. He freed the man from a life in a prison cell, or from a brutal death and gave the man the space he needed to repent, to be who God meant him to be. So as we prepare for the Nativity of Christ and think about all the ways we can be the sower and help bring Christ into the world, remember the power of forgiveness.
Think about how life changing it can be, to have someone approach you, not with anger or condemnation, not seeking justice or revenge, but rather with the spirit of mercy and love. Think about how comforting it is when people don't lose faith in you, when they remember that you're bigger than even your biggest mistake. It's the freedom Saint Dionysios offered that man, and it's the freedom Christ offers all of us as he looks down from the Cross, not with anger or judgment, but with mercy. "Forgive them, Father, they know not what they do."
So, as you attempt to be the sower, ask yourself, are there any people I'm having trouble forgiving? Are there any people that I'm defining by their sins and shortcomings? Are there any people that I'm hiding behind misleading labels, rather than seeing them for who they really are? If so, pray for them. And it's not easy, but ask for their prayers and their forgiveness for your hardness of heart. Because your forgiveness, your unconditional love, may be exactly what someone in your life needs right now. So let's be the bee, and free people to be who they're meant to be in Christ. Be the Bee and Live Orthodoxy. Remember to like and subscribe and share. I'll see you all next week. Thanks to our supporters on Patreon who helped make this episode possible. To support the creation of more Orthodox Christian content, please visit Patreon.com/y2am.
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