On Prayer XXVIII: “And Forgive Us Our Debts As We Forgive Our Debtors”

Many people say: I love people, I just can’t come to terms with two or three people – my neighbors, my co-workers, my mother in law – but I love everyone else. Thus, the words “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” reminds us of the couple of people that we can’t forgive, whose debts we can’t forgive. And this prayer teaches us that, as long as we don’t forgive them, we can’t hope that the Lord will forgive us.
We continue a series on prayer, transcribed from television episodes presented on Russian television in the spring of 1999 by Fr. (now Metropolitan) Hilarion (Alfeyev) with the blessing of His Holiness, the late Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia. We hope to present three sections a week, each of which is relatively brief but substantial, for a total of thirty-two episodes.

Continued from part XXVII.

Prayer is inextricably bound up with one’s way of life. The reason for the difficulties one experiences in prayer lies in an incorrect, unspiritual, and non-evangelical life. We sense this especially when we say the “Our Father.” Each petition of this prayer places us in front of a given reality, as if we were being judged – judged by our own conscience. And this prayer, if we pray from our soul and heart – if we really think about what is written here – should constantly force us to change our lives.

We say: “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors,” that is, we ask God to forgive us our debts, as we forgive those who are in debt to us. When we speak these words, we should ask ourselves: do we forgive our neighbors? Are we ready to place our own forgiveness by God in dependence on whether we forgive others? Isn’t this too frightening? Isn’t this too much responsibility?

Experience shows that it isn’t so difficult to forgive everyone, just as it isn’t so difficult to love everyone ­– everyone, in an abstract sense. Many people say: I love people, I just can’t come to terms with two or three people – my neighbors, my co-workers, my mother in law – but I love everyone else. Thus, the words “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” reminds us of the couple of people that we can’t forgive, whose debts we can’t forgive. And this prayer teaches us that, as long as we don’t forgive them, we can’t hope that the Lord will forgive us.

Earthly life is give to us so that we would make peace with everyone. In life many knots are tied, and it is our task to manage to untie them while we still have time. Nothing is impossible for man. It can be very difficult to make peace with someone, to forgive someone, but if we don’t find the strength for this, we can’t count on God to forgive us. If we call God our Father and ourselves Christians, if we say “Hallowed be Thy Name” – that is, that the name of God should be holy, and the holiness of God’s name should be manifest through our deeds – then how can we not forgive our debtors, those who have offended, insulted, or humiliated us?

Christian life is an ascetic struggle [podvig], and we should relate to it responsibly; we should earn the right to say the Lord’s Prayer. And we earn this right through our good deeds. No single word – and, moreover, no word of prayer – should be in vain, empty, or unjustified. Behind every word there is a reality, and behind the words of the “Our Father” should stand our actions. If we say to God: “Thy will be done,” that means that we should submit our will to His will, to God’s will. And if we ask God: “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors,” this means that we should learn to forgive everyone we consider blameworthy, whom we consider to be in our debt.

Translated from the Russian.

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