What does it mean – “and leave us our debts – as we also leave our debtors …”
Probably, among believers, and not very people, there is not a single one who would not know about the prayer “Our Father”. And let not everyone know it by heart, but at least once in their lives, they probably heard it. But, perhaps, even those who read it from memory several times a day do not always think about the meaning of what is being said. Meanwhile, in this prayer given to the apostles by Christ himself, there are wonderful words:
“And forgive us our debts, just as we forgive our debtors…”
And even fewer people think about what the failure to fulfill such a seemingly ordinary condition could threaten. Meanwhile, in church tradition there are many instructive stories in this regard.
So, on the eve of March 11, according to the new style, among other saints, the Church celebrated the day of memory of Titus, presbyter of the Caves. This saint lived in those times that were later called the “golden age of ancient Russian monasticism” – in the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra in the 12th century. However, he did not become a saint immediately. And Titus was especially influenced by one story, thanks to which he became widely known even centuries later.
As often happens in monasteries, individual brothers treated each other far from brotherly. However, between the mentioned Titus and a certain hierodeacon Evagrius, for some reason, even not just hostility, but fierce hatred flared up. They were so hostile that even during divine services they tried to avoid the smoke from the censer if one of them held it in his hands.
One day, Titus fell seriously ill. Feeling the approach of death, he repented of his enmity and with tears began to pray to Evagrius for forgiveness. At first, he did not want to go to the dying man at all and came, only led by the brethren of the monastery, almost by force. But even at the deathbed of his enemy, he did not want to forgive him, cruelly saying words full of hatred in front of everyone:
“I never want to be reconciled with him: not in this age, not in the future!
And then something incomprehensible happened – suddenly the merciless monk fell dead. Moreover, he looked as if he had been dead for a long time – his members had acquired the properties of “rigor mortis”.
But Titus suddenly got up from his bed completely healthy! And told the brethren the following.
“During my illness,” blessed Titus began his story in this way, “I, still possessed by anger, saw how the angels retreated from me. They wept for the destruction of my soul, and the demons rejoiced that I had wrath against my brother. That is why I began to ask you to go and ask my brother for my forgiveness. When you brought him to me, and I bowed to him, and he turned away from me, I saw one unmerciful Angel with a fiery spear, with which he struck the one who did not forgive me, and he fell dead. The same Angel gave me his hand, lifted me up, and behold, I recovered.
After such a terrifying miracle, the monks of the Caves tried for a very long time to ignore minor troubles from each other and forgave the brethren after the first request. And Evagrius, hardened in his heart, was buried with open eyes and open hands, as if imprinting even after his death his stone stubbornness to forgive those who sinned.
Many centuries have passed since then. The imperishable relics of Presbyter Titus have long been resting in the Near Caves, for whom, after the miracle that happened, nothing prevented him from shining with a holy life. And it is determined not even by the most powerful deeds of abstinence, fasting, mortification of the flesh, prayers – but, mainly, by love, without which, according to the Apostle Paul, “everything is nothing.” This is how he is depicted on the icon dedicated to this saint – and the angel piercing the merciless Evagrius with a fiery spear, who, having forgotten about love for his neighbor, suddenly lost the fruits of all his previous monastic labors …
In general, the month of February (according to the old style) is very rich in such examples. On February 22 (the ninth according to the old style) the memory of another saint was celebrated – the martyr Nicephorus.
He lived in the third century in Syria and was a simple layman. For many years he was friends with the local presbyter Saprikios. But one day, after the devil’s machinations, they kindled a deadly enmity towards each other. True, we must pay tribute to Nikifor – rather quickly he understood the true reason for his hatred and tried to reconcile with Saprikiy. He asked for forgiveness himself, sent friends to intercede for himself – but it was all in vain.
Meanwhile, at the time described in the Roman Empire, which included Syria, the persecution of Christians began. Summoned for interrogation, Saprikios confessed his faith, courageously withstood torture, and after them was sentenced to beheading with a sword. When he was led to the place of execution, Nicephorus made a last attempt to reconcile – fell to his knees, with tears asked him to forgive – but it was all in vain, the merciless presbyter remained deaf, like a soulless stone. Although he simply “according to his position” should have remembered the commandment of his Archpastor, Christ “to forgive those who have sinned 70 times, seven times a day – if only they repent.”
But – “God is not mocked.” And if He has “no partiality”, then the formidable words “judgment without mercy to the one who has not shown mercy” apply to everyone without exception. And just as the deacon Evagrius mentioned at the beginning of the article was not helped by his monastic exploits, so was left without the nearly received martyr’s crown and presbyter Saprikios.
For when the soldiers had already brought him to the place of execution, and the executioner asked the doomed man to bow his head so that it would be more convenient to cut it off, he suddenly, as if waking up, asked with horror: “Why do you want to execute me?” And when Saprikiy heard that death awaited him for disrespecting the pagan gods, he immediately gladly agreed to sacrifice to them. Thus, renounce Christ.
Nikifor looked at what was happening with fear and pain. When his tearful prayers to Saprikios not to ruin his martyrdom remained unanswered, like the previous ones, he himself boldly confessed the faith of Christ and demanded from the soldiers that he be executed instead of the apostate. They reported the incident to the hegemon – and the judge ordered Saprikios to be released and Nicephorus to be executed instead …
How often we, getting carried away by everyday and even quite charitable deeds, forget that a good half of the key commandments and parables of the Gospel is devoted to mercy, non-judgment, love. “Judge not, that ye be not judged, for by what judgment you judge, so will you be judged,” “love thy neighbor as thyself,” and many others in the same vein. This, of course, does not mean any “indifference” in relation to sin and its bearers. Although the Lord commanded us to do good to our enemies, He also permitted (even if condescending to our weakness): “If the brother who has sinned against you does not repent … and does not listen to the Church, then let it be like a pagan and a tax collector.” But these lines are absolutely inapplicable to those who are ready to ask for forgiveness – but stumble upon the merciless: “Yes, I will never forgive you!”
So did the hero of Gogol’s story “Terrible Revenge”, who came up with a sophisticated eternal punishment for his murderer – his brother, who became a traitor. “A fearful execution, you invented, man!” God said. “Let everything be as you said, but you also sit there forever on your horse, and there will be no Kingdom of Heaven for you while you sit there on your horse!” As you can see, the main idea of the work of a secular writer clearly echoes the most canonical examples of hagiographic literature.
Of course, sometimes it is very difficult to forgive a serious offense. No wonder even the apostles, in response to Christ’s words about “forgiveness to those who have sinned seventy times seven,” humbly asked “increase faith in us!” But you still need to try to forgive. For, according to the repeated thought of St. Fathers – “there is no simpler way to be saved than not to condemn your neighbors and forgive their sins against yourself” And let the prayers of St. Titus, presbyter of the Caves – and the holy martyr Nicephorus help us in this …