We constantly take offence at someone and do not always understand how we should extinguish the foul, painful feeling inside us. This situation becomes exacerbated especially before Communion of the Holy Mysteries of Christ, which we ought to approach with a pure heart. Unlike laypeople, who can abstain from Communion if they are feeling insulted, a priest celebrating alone does not have that option—he has to celebrate the Liturgy anyway. Therefore, we asked some Orthodox pastors to tell us how we can eliminate the feeling of resentment as soon as possible.
To abstain from Communion is to give ourselves up to sin
—If a layperson decides not to commune because of an offence, he demonstrates his total surrender to the sin. Rather than making a spiritual effort, confessing his sins with repentance, and turning to the Lord for help, he chooses not to commune of the Holy Mysteries of Christ. This means that he accepts his present state of sinfulness and balks at uniting with the Lord in the sacrament of the Eucharist. This is all wrong. Our resentment is a sign of our weakness, something we should work on before we come to our next Liturgy. Living with resentment for a long time is to live in hell and torment.
In this regard, the priest does not have an option; he will celebrate the Liturgy; and Divine Liturgy is the Lord’s Kingdom manifested on earth. The radiance and glory of the Kingdom go beyond any earthly grudge. Offenses or injustices of this world can in no way be compared with the abundance of God’s love that the Divine Kingdom can reveal to us. Let us assume that someone has said a rude word or a lie to you, someone has let you down, and now the Lord Himself opens to you the door of Paradise as the Kingdom of Love. Would you care for someone’s words or betrayal knowing that you are with the Lord, Who is opening the door of heaven to you?
Our infirmities are sometimes stronger than we are; it is often a challenge to compose oneself; we should look at ourselves from a different angle, and see how hideous the state of disgusting resentment is. While doing this, sigh and say to God, “Lord, forgive me, sinful and weak, help me be rid of this grudge, save those who insulted me, and grant me the freedom of love.” This pure, sincere prayer will fill your soul with a feeling of easiness. Pray during the Liturgy for those who have offended you.
It is also important to look at the problem from a different perspective. The one who insulted you, who has treated you unfairly, agonizes over his infirmities and shortcomings—which means he needs your spiritual support. He did not hurt you; he hurt himself by treating his neighbour in such way. You ought to pray for him to help him spiritually. You should repay evil with compassion. This is the only way to wake his soul, bring it back to full consciousness and help it repent. Through forgiveness and prayer, God’s grace will come into your life—the grace that brings spiritual freedom, comforts the one who has been treated unfairly, and transforms those who have ever offended anyone.
We do not receive offences without God’s allowance
—A priest, as well as any Christian, should realize that any fit of anger is primarily a manifestation of our pride. Obviously, there are grave kinds of offence that are similar to wounds. However, if we want to overcome this feeling, especially during the Liturgy, we should pray for the one who caused it. This is a necessary and sufficient condition.
Secondly, we should not repay offence with offence and evil with evil for what has been done to us. We should repent, be humble and sincerely implore the Lord to help us surmount the offence. In this regard, it will be useful to reproach ourselves, which is instrumental in acquiring humility. With humility, the negative feeling will vanish completely. If a priest persists in his resentment, if he persists in thinking evilly of a wrongdoer, then his celebration of the Liturgy will be to his condemnation. The Lord’s words are one of the most ancient rules for celebrating the Eucharist: First make peace with your brother and then bring the bread and wine to the altar table.
Therefore, it is not returning evil for evil but prayer that is essential, as well as self-reproach, and humility. We should come to the awareness that if guided by your human mind you take grave offence at someone, this happens with God’s permission to possibly cover your own sins.
We should never forget to ask for forgiveness, even though we may struggle to do so
—I believe that it is not so difficult to deal with resentment at someone ,(unless the case is “chronic”), especially if this person insulted you in vain. We can at least consciously resist the feeling and confess this resistance, our unwillingness to take offence, and then go and celebrate the Liturgy. Moreover, I dare assume that one’s willing fight against sin and its root, vanity and self-love, will be counted for spiritual labor or even more—confession of faith. Though the warfare is tough, fighting and enduring it is not sinful, if one (I reiterate myself) resists the sin.
It is a different thing to insult someone, either deliberately or not. It is more difficult to deal with, especially if you did not have time to make peace, to apologize, or that is impossible for some reason. In this case, you ought to bitterly reproach yourself without excuses, praying for the person you have hurt. You should entreat the Lord to forgive you, and then celebrate the Liturgy, realizing your own nothingness, desperately hoping for God’s mercy for your sincere willingness to make peace.
A full reconciliation is a gift of God. A nominal “I am sorry” is often not sufficient. The holy fathers, however, encourage us to ask for forgiveness if it is possible, even though we may struggle to do so. We should say these words for Christ’s sake, to fulfill the commandment of reconciliation. Although this person may disregard your expression repentance, you have at least taken a real step towards peace. After that, you may pray for the person and pray that you achieve harmony, hoping that a suitable opportunity will arise for both of you to receive in abundance what you have been praying for.
Crucial here is to not agree in your heart to alienation and resentment, as if they were something ordinary and acceptable. We should entreat the Lord to forgive the one who insulted us just as we want the Lord to forgive us.
If you do not disrupt a flow of thoughts, your prayer to God becomes its antithesis
—As I heard the question, it came to my mind that over last few years I felt aggrieved twice. I remember that I did not put the thing off and went to a priest serving in a church nearby to repent for having those bitter feelings. I prayed for those who did harm to me. I did this to have the right to celebrate the Liturgy. Later I discussed the two problems with our diocesan confessor and asked him to counsel me on what I should do to resolve each situation.
The issue we are discussing is very important, and not only for priests. I will try to explain why. I am not by nature prone to taking offence; for my twenty years as priest, I do not remember anything other than the two instances mentioned above. Nothing else comes to my mind. However, when I enter the church to celebrate the Liturgy, to begin the Preparation, a black horde of thoughts and memories immediately assails me, and I recall zillions of sudden, minor offences and resentments. For instance, it comes to my mind how long they delayed in giving me a clergy award, how they forgot to give me a pectoral cross for an anniversary, and other similar rubbish. I come to remember things that never concern or trouble me in my ordinary life, and suddenly all this rubbish grows and seems to be a real problem: How did they dare insult me?
Being experienced, and knowing in advance the moment when my discontent starts to spread, I get ready to repel the attack of thoughts with the Jesus prayer. Then, during the entire Liturgy, I have to be on my guard, to carefully listen to myself, to bridle all thoughts arising, especially during the anaphora.
You may ask any priest: The Liturgy is—I cannot find a better word—the sweetest part of our lives, but at the same time it is the time of tough spiritual warfare.
Having analyzed my state, thoughts, and concerns during other services, I have learned how to distinguish sinful thoughts that emerge at the time of prayer. Usually, they all are the same. I have learned how to stop them them in time and not to lose my attention to prayer. This is not easy, but it is essential. Otherwise, prayer to God becomes its antithesis.