I thought of this passage during my conversation the dear Protestant, because it so interestingly marks the shift in my thinking about man, his sin, and his restoration. May we not confuse ourselves with our sin, and thus understand forgiveness.
Why couldn’t I understand forgiveness before? According to Fr. Alexander Schmemann its because “the sacrament of forgiveness is baptism”, and I didn’t understand baptism as a Protestant. (Maybe if I had grown up Lutheran, but even then…). I didn’t understand any of the Holy Mysteries when I was a Protestant – I naturally believed in some sort of Real Presence in the Eucharist, because I believed I could “eat and drink judgment on myself.” But then we would pour the left-over grape juice to the toddler’s for snacks.
How are we forgiven? We are returned to the true Humanity by being in Christ. How are we “in Christ”? We are baptized.
From Fr. A Schmemann:
To believe in Him is to accept the joyful revelation that in Him forgiveness and reconciliation find their fulfillment. In baptism man wants to die as a sinful man and he is given that death, and in baptism man wants the newness of life as forgiveness, and he is given it. And yet sin is still in us and we constantly fall away from the new life we have received. The fight of the new Adam against the old Adam is a long and painful one, an what a naive oversimplification it is to think, as some do, that the “salvation” they experience in revivals and “decisions for Christ,” and which result in moral righteousness, soberness and warm philanthropy, is the whole of salvation, is what God meant when He gave His Son for the life of the world. The one true sadness is “that of not being a saint,” and how often the “moral” Christians are precisely those who never feel, never experience this sadness, because their own “experience of salvation, ” the felling of “being saved” fills them with self-satisfaction; and whoever has been “satisfied” has received already his reward and cannot thirst and hunger for that total transformation and transfiguration or life which alone makes “saints.”Baptism is forgiveness of sins, not their removal. It introduces the sword of Christ into our life and makes it the real conflict, the inescapable pain and suffering of growth. It is indeed after baptism and because of it, that the reality of sin can be recognized in all its sadness, and true repentance becomes possible. Therefore, the whole of the Church is at the same time the gift of forgiveness, the joy of the “world to come, ” and also and inescapably a constant repentance. The feast is impossible without the fast, and the fast is precisely repentance and return, the saving experience of sadness and exile. The Church is the gift of the Kingdom – yet it is this very gift that makes obvious our absence from the Kingdom, our alienation from God. It is repentance that take us again and again into the joy which reveals to us our sinfulness and puts us under judgment.