Remembrance of wrongs comes as the final point of anger. It is a keeper of sins. It hates a just way of life. It is the ruin of virtues, the poison of the soul, a worm in the mind. it is the shame of prayer, a cutting off of supplication, a turning away from love, a nail piercing the soul. It is a pleasureless feeling cherished in the sweetness of bitterness. It is a never-ending sin, an unsleeping wrong, rancor by the hour. A dark and laothesome passion, it comes to be but has no offspring, so that one need not say much about it.A man who has put a stop to anger has also wiped out remembrance of wrongs, since offspring can come only from a living parent.
St. John of the Ladder, 9
Reading works such as The Ladder by St. John Climacus is fruitful work for the soul during seasons of repentance. Such writings often show us far more about our hearts than we are ready to learn. Associating with other human beings on a regular basis (either as a pastor, or even as an active Church member, or simply from being observant at work on any given day) offers a constant education in the ways of the human heart. The remembrance of wrongs is just one of many burdens which weigh heavily on the soul and make it impossible for it to rise above itself to anything heavenly. Such remembrance also has the capacity to weigh down everything around it.
A vast amount of our planet is engaged at any given moment in the remembrance of wrongs. It seems the older the country or civilization, the longer the list of wrongs, and the more deeply they run. For a youthful America it is sometimes baffling. But I can recall growing up as a child of the South and being taught the remembrance of wrongs from my elders as they rehearsed a heavily edited version of the American Civil War. I got over it, but the wrongs suffered by my family were few (if any). There was not so much to remember.
The wrongs that have been done by one human family to another are incalculable. They frequently run for centuries and carry vengeance for vengeance and wrong for wrong. As has been said, “An eye for an eye and the whole world’s blind.”
I know that on the individual level the remembrance of wrongs is a dead end – as St. John said, “It comes to be but has no offspring so one need not say much about it.” But it can be a confining memory, one whose existence grows ever smaller until we find our heart so squeezed that nothing but pain can come from it.
And thus we come to the formidable act of forgiveness. Forgiveness is the infinity of God – it has no limits. It opens the heart to light and truth and banishes the darkness of unforgotten evils. It is perhaps the most difficult of all tasks that human beings undertake. I do not believe that it lies within our power. Only the mercy of God and great grace (the very Life of God) working in us can make forgiveness possible. This is all the more reason we should seek to have our hearts filled with forgiveness – for when they are such – they are filled with God and are truly great.
Among the most godlike acts in all of Scripture are the final words of the Protomartyr Stephen, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge” (Acts 7:60). In that single act of forgiveness he comformed his life to that of Christ. I believe as well that he sowed the seeds of the conversion of St. Paul (Saul at that time) who stood by “consenting to his death.” There was no remembrance of wrong to crush the heart of Paul, but a remembrance of a right that was so astounding that his own heart must have ached at its every echo.
In many ways, the whole of the Gospel is to be found in St. Stephen’s words, for nothing so marks the actions and deeds of the Gospel than God’s unrelenting forgiveness and refusal to remember our wrongs. Instead He is the God to whom a thief can dare to say, “Remember me this day when you come into your kingdom.”