In one of the monasteries in Russia, in the days before the Revolution, there lived a certain monk who was carefree and spent his life in idleness. When the time came for him to die, the other monks of the monastery were very afraid for the soul of their lazy brother. They feared that the departure of his sinful soul was going to be extremely agonizing, that the final minutes of his life here on earth would be spent in great pain. But, when they had gathered at his deathbed, they found exactly the opposite of what they had expected. Their brother was dying quietly and, with joy-he was dying the death of a righteous man. Everyone was amazed at this and one of the brothers could not contain himself and asked: "Tell us, dear brother, why is your death so peaceful and joyful? You are the first to admit that you spent your life as a monk improperly and carelessly."
The sick one, strengthened by the Grace of God, raised himself up from his deathbed and told his brothers about a great vision he was privileged to see at the start of his grave illness. The monk told of how angels visited him and showed him a list of his many sins. After reading the list to him, the angels asked: "Do you remember committing these sins?" The monk answered, "Yes, I do," and awaited judgment for the multitude of his wrongdoings. To his great surprise, the angels then told him that all of his sins every last one, was being forgiven. When the monk asked the angels why he had been so mercifully granted forgiveness, the angels answered: "You are forgiven this multitude of sins because ever since the time that you entered the monastery, you have not judged anyone. Your life has been improper in other respects, but you never held a grudge against anyone, and forgave everybody on the spot. And the Lord God has promised that those who did not judge shall not be judged, and those that forgave would be forgiven." "Having heard this from the angels," continued the sick monk, “it is easy for me to die with joy.” (Upon finishing his explanation the monk lay back on his bed and departed in peace into eternal sleep.
“Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”
Isn't our behavior at times exactly the opposite to that of the dying monk? We fight our passions, and attempt not to sin. We fast as best we can, are honest in our dealings, we help the needy--and in general, try to live according to the Church's statutes. But when it comes to judging others, we give ourselves free reign. We judge and criticize those we come in contact with mercilessly.
We forget that everyday, more than once we repeat the Lord's Prayer, with the words: "and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors." With these words we are asking the Lord to forgive us our sins in the same way that we forgive the sins of our neighbors. If we pray these words and then turn around and judge our brothers, our sins may not be forgiven even if we do repent.
Great Lent is fast approaching. This is a period specially set aside for the cleansing of our souls. And what better way to begin this process than by asking one another's forgiveness, as indeed the holy Church calls us to do in a special service on the eve of the Fast. May we strive to remember the example of this monk who, for the virtue of not judging his brethren, averted the judgment which awaits all souls as they pass from this life. Let us forgive and forget the shortcomings of those who surround us. In all of our conversations with friends, let's not even broach the subject of someone else's failings. And even if someone does us an injustice, harms us in any way, let us forgive them straight away and forever.
Fr. Gregory Naumenko
Holy Virgin Protection Church
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