In the Orthodox Church there is the sacrament of Confession. In the presence of the Priest as a witness a person speaks aloud of his transgressions to God and asks for forgiveness. At the end of the Confession the penitent kneels, the Priest places his stole over the penitent’s head and recites the Prayer of Absolution, “Our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ, who received the repentance of Peter and of the tears of the woman caught in sin, this same Lord Jesus Christ pardons and absolves you of all your sins, both in this world and in the world to come.” What is interesting and made clear in the formulation of the Absolution is that it is not the Priest who bestows forgiveness but it is God who bestows it through Jesus Christ. The Priest merely acts as the hands and voice that make clear that the Absolution has been bestowed.
Interestingly in ancient Hawaii this being forgiven and starting anew (which is the heart of any absolution) was incarnated in the Places/City of Refuge. These were places where a transgressor might flee and go through proscribed rituals to cleanse them of their sins which then enabled them to return to their homes and villages to continue their life. In this context absolution was crucial because many kapu offenses merited the punishment of death! One can imagine that the forgiven offender returned home grateful to have another chance at living life! The fact is that we are all capable of bestowing absolution upon others….. but do we? Sometimes instead of setting another free from their mistakes we cherish and nurture the memory of their offense! A question for all of us to ask ourselves is, “Do I hoard and limit my Absolutions?”
I would propose that we don’t forgive others because we are not grateful! It’s not as if there a is a law that states we must be grateful or we will be fined a penalty! If we are aware of the gift we have been given by having been brought into being then isn’t that reason enough be grateful? Out of gratitude flows forgiveness of others. Forgiveness means to refuse to reflect any further upon their offense against us. It means to forgo their having to pay us some kind of a penalty. It really means to set the other free. In today’s culture of ME we can convince ourselves that we have a “right” to hold onto being offended! We can even believe that since there is no cop standing behind us to enforce what is right then no one can make me forgive if I don’t feel like it! The fact is when we refuse to forgive others then we ourselves become a prisoner needing absolution which can only come to us through another!