|St. John the Baptist by the hand of Nicholas Papas. This icon can be purchased at Come and See Icons.|
I have always wondered (and probably should have taken the time to ask a priest or someone who would know) what the big deal was about St. John the Baptist and why we have so many days in the year that we remember him in the Church. He has no less than 6 days (7 if you want to include the one in which we honor his parents Zachariah and Elizabeth) dedicated to him. Well it finally dawned on me that perhaps the reason we remember him so often is because of his core message of the Christian faith..."REPENT!" (It's not a bad thing to be reminded to repent during the course of the year. Seven times is probably not enough for me actually.)
Anyhow, if you are familiar with St. John's story, you know that he was martyred by beheading for his message of repentance. People generally don't like to be told to repent, although we all think we are St. John and ask others to repent all the time. And then the crazy part of that is once people do repent, we still don't forgive them. Case in point, Michael Vick. I just read an article last week of a poll taken that he is currently the most hated professional athlete in America. If you are not familiar with Mr. Vick, do a quick google of Michael Vick and dog fighting. He spent 548 days in a federal prison for some pretty heinous crimes involving dogs. However, since being released from prison in May of 2009, at least in the interviews I have seen/read, he seems to be a more mature and changed man. He returned to professional football after serving his time and was voted to the 2011 Pro Bowl (a big deal for an American football player). And yet in 2012, people still want to hate him. I'm not saying the guy is a saint, I don't know him personally, but what is it with people asking others to change and then not forgiving them once they do? (Here's a good article from Time U.S. about Michael Vick's journey if you are interested.)
We all have things in our lives that we are ashamed of, have repented of and do not want to be reminded of because of the pain it causes to our hearts. We are not the same person today as we were yesterday, last year, 10, 20, 30 years ago. And neither are the people around us. As we have repented and been forgiven by God and those we have hurt, so must we respect that others have done the same. Only God knows the sincerity of one's repentance, not you or me. All I am asked to do is to forgive those who wish to be forgiven (and forgive those who haven't asked too!) I'm not saying it's easy. It can be a real struggle sometimes because we like re-live the hurt others have caused and either exalt ourselves over them or use it as an excuse for our behaviours. Again, I know it's not always that simple, but it is a must-do if you consider yourself to be a Christian. One of my favorite parables that Christ gives us is the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. Read it here from Matthew 18:21-35. Pretty sobering stuff don't you think?
This Sunday, the day before the Fast begins, is called Forgiveness Sunday in the Orthodox Church. We ask forgiveness from God and each other. It allows us to start Great Lent with a clean slate and then step into the the Fast ready to repent, only focusing on our own failings and not that of others. It is an essential step in the journey towards the Feast of the Ressurection of Christ.
Forgive me dear readers if I have offended you today or any day. May you all have a blessed and fruitful Lenten journey.