Saturday, October 1, 2016

On Forgiveness of offenses and on anger.

Saint Macarius of Optina.
   From the reminiscences of a spiritual son on Saint Macarius of Optina:
   At Optina Monastery, I became acquainted with one of Fr. Macarius' spiritual children. One time he was passing through our region on some business trip, and he fell sick about eighteen miles from our estate. When I learned of this I immediately visited him and cared for him like a nursemaid. in a word, I helped him in every way I could. The sick man recovered very slowly and according to the doctor it was very likely he would not have recovered at all. But to everyone's astonishment, he be­came well. Then he came to me and, instead of being grateful, said and did many unpleasant things to me!. I grew terribly angry and if I did not answer him impudently, it was only out of decency and fear of causing some kind of scandal.
   When I saw F r. Macarius, I told him everything that had happened. I complained bitterly about my experience, not holding back my anger. Fr. Macarius listened to everything silently. I began to feel annoyed, and also fell silent.
   "Truly," said Fr. Macarius with his usual modesty, "this person is a little thoughtless, even uncivil sometimes. But what can I do with him?. You see what kind of spiritual children I have!. I am also unhappy with him sometimes, and often scold him, even. And, well, he doesn't always obey me. How many times have I reprimanded him for riding senselessly?. Every year he ruins or completely exhausts several horses. You see, that too is not very good. I tell him, but he contradicts me. Just wait; when he comes to see me I'll have a talk with him, and if the Lord helps me you will be reconciled. And as for you, I advise you to calm your anger and go to confession and Communion. That will be more beneficial for your soul."
   I began to fast, and after a few days my acquaintance, who had offended me, arrived. When I came to Fr. Macarius to ask him for forgiveness and a blessing to go to confession, the Elder said: "Yes, you see, you still have something against a certain person. How can you approach the mystery of repentance and Communion without being reconciled with everyone?. I beg you, prove to me right now that you desire to acquire humility. Humble yourself and ask forgiveness of the one who offended you."
   It was difficult to master my offended self-love. I wavered for a few minutes, but then I saw that there was nothing else to do. I had to submit to the Elder. For the first time in my life, I went to ask forgiveness of a person who had offended me. But when I came up to him and bowed down, he became so uneasy that I began to feel sorry for him. We embraced and kissed each other with the kiss of peace. With unusual joy in my heart, I returned to Father.
   "May the Lord save you for your obedience to me!", said the Elder when I had told him of all that had passed between us. "Here, now go to confession. God will bless you!".

Optina Monastery Hermitage.

   After receiving the Holy Mysteries, I stayed on for a few more days at the Monastery. One day, during confession with Fr. Macarius, I asked him: "How is it, Father, that the time I complained about a certain man, you did not reproach me, but on the contrary took my side and judged him yourself?".
   "Yes," replied the Elder, "I sinned in judging my brother. But what could I do?... If I had begun to reproach you then you would certainly have become upset with me. You see, you can't put out fire with oil. When a person is excited, contradiction just irritates him more. You have to give space to his anger. But when his stormy state quiets down, and peace begins to be re-estab­lished in his soul-then you can offer him advice, and it will be much more effective, and it will be received with much love. I would advise you, too, to be careful in such cases. Do not reproach a person when he is angry, do not accuse him and do not argue with him. It is better to leave him in peace. Only be attentive to yourself, so as not to fall into discord. When you feel that your heart is irritated, recall the Jesus Prayer to your thoughts, and try to set a guard before your lips".
   During the several years that I was in contact with Optina Monastery and under the guidance of Fr. Macarius, I both heard and carefully read many things from the Sacred Scriptures and the writings of the Elders. My natural self-love made me desire to conduct religious discussions with different kinds of people. Sometimes I would get into debates with them, wishing to win them over to my point of view, and when I met with opposition, I would get irritated and lose my temper. Once I talked about this to Fr. Macarius, and this was his reply:
   "If you happen to get together with like-minded people, then why not talk about religious topics?. Such conversation is incomparably better and more fitting for a Christian than idle or empty talk. Why not listen to the spiritually wise speech of a person who thinks rightly, or why not relate what you know yourself to him?. But if an argument begins, it is much more sensible to escape it, according to the teaching of the Apostle which forbids dispute about words, because they serve no good, and can be the ruin of those who listen (cf. II Tim. 2: 14). It is better in such a case to stop the discussion, but do that reasonably, too, with humble wisdom. Change the subject of the conversation, or gradually withdraw from it, but do not suddenly cut it off, because then your silence can make the others think that you look down at their way of thinking, or that you don't think them worthy of your conversation and do not want to talk with them. In any case, you have to try to appease every person, and not drag anyone into the passion of anger. Know that instruction is wasted on a contradictory person, for instruction edifies only the person who desires and seeks edification."

    Fr. Leonid Kavelin, Elder Macarius of Optina translated by Valentina V. Lyovina (1995), St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, Platina, California, U.S.A.