The Gospel passage mentioned in the last post said, …if you do not forgive your brother from your heart. But, going the “extra mile” in forgiveness, in his first epistle, St. Peter says:
Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. And James echoes this same idea of “covering” the sins of others: …whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
This covering others’ sins is something we don’t think about much, though it has been around a while…in Proverbs, love covers all offenses, and elsewhere in Proverbs,
Whoever covers an offense seeks love,…
We not only are called to forgive, but to actively use love to cover sins.
There is a story, related to us by St. Dorotheos of Gaza, which shows us how to cover others’ sins, in this case, quite literally:
“What did the blessed Ammon do when some of the brothers came to him and said, ‘Come and see, Father. There is a young woman in brother so-and-so’s cell!’ What tenderness he showed to the erring brother. What great love there was in that great soul.
Knowing that the brother had hidden the woman in a large barrel, he went in, sat down on it, and told the others to search the whole place. And when they found nothing, he said to them, ‘May God forgive you!’ And so dismissing them in disgrace, he called out to them that they should not readily believe anything against their neighbor. By his consideration for his brother he not only protected him, but corrected him. For when they were alone he said, ‘Have a care for yourself, brother’. Immediately the other’s conscience pricked him and he was stricken with remorse.”
Fascinating: even though they were right, even though the brother indeed had a woman in his cell, the message for them was to not readily believe anything against their neighbor. We are never, ever called to prove our point, to show how somebody is wrong, or even to defend Orthodoxy. We are called to love.
We are called to love, and through love, to cover the sins of others. Choose the path where the angels will tear up your offenses! And better still, sit on that barrel, in love, and pray the Lord will draw the world to repentance.