Forgiveness in the Christian Family

The bonding cement of a Christian community, whether it be a parish or the family, is the ability and the readiness of each of the members to ask forgiveness from one another. If we are not able to forgive one another how can we expect God to forgive us? In the “Our Father, … ” which Christ taught us to pray, we ask for God’s forgiveness on these conditions: “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors . . .” (Matt. 6:12). The most effective medicine against anger and irritability, although it is the most bitter at the first draught, is to ask forgiveness after a quarrel. It is bitter for human pride but, if it is so, hasten even more to make use of it, for it is bitter only for the proud, and if it seems so intolerable to you, then you know that you have within you yet another serious ailment, pride. Sit down and think over your own soul, and pray that the Lord might help you master yourself and ask forgiveness and reconciliation from the person you have offended, even if he is more to blame than you are.

The Christian family is the most primary of all human relationships, for on its stability depends the stability of the entire Church. Disharmony within Christian families penetrates into the larger Christian community, creating disharmony in the parish church as well. Members of the family should be quick to ask for each other’s forgiveness when they have said or done wrong to them. Asking for forgiveness keeps animosity, anger and hatred from becoming rooted in members of the family, which eventually may cause the dissolution of the family and the family church. This catastrophe is not only physically harmful, but also spiritually detrimental. The seeking of forgiveness for wrong or harsh words or anger should never be put off until tomorrow, for then it has had time to root in the heart, and sets a precedent for the next time. Eventually it will become a habit not to seek forgiveness, but rather to let these passions build up to the point where one is too proud to ask it.

The heads of monastic communities ask forgiveness each day of the brotherhood and entire community in the prayers at the conclusion of Compline and Midnight Office; this indicates the importance of asking forgiveness from those with whom we live.

Seeking forgiveness from members of the family church can be patterned after the parish church’s Vesper Service on Forgiveness Sunday (Cheese-fare Sunday) when all parishioners seek forgiveness from one another. At the Vesper Service, each person says to the other, “Forgive me, a sinner,” and then makes a complete prostration (touching the head to the ground) before the other person, after which they exchange the apostolic kiss of peace by kissing each other on alternate cheeks three times [or by kissing each other’s right hand].

In the family church the member who has been angry or has spoken un-Christian words toward another, whether or not this was justified, should ask forgiveness for his deeds, words or actions and make a complete prostration no later than bed-time the same day.

Husband and wife, the evening before receiving Holy Communion, as part of their preparation, should ask forgiveness from each other as well as from the children and anyone else residing in the house. A tradition existing in some pious Orthodox households is for the children on the evening prior to Communion to kiss the right hand of their parents when asking forgiveness.

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