“Bear with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgive each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive” Colossians 3:13.
This verse is from St Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians, which was written in his time in prison in Rome, and provides guidance for every aspect of our daily lives.
The verses beforehand talk about putting to death the old life before the entry of Christ. Instead, St Paul writes, we should be putting on Christ and taking up our new lives.
The Greek word for “bear” (ανέχομαι) means to put up with, to endure, to suffer. This is what our bearing with one another must look like. It requires patience, obedience, humility and love for others. Through these we should be attentive to one another in order to look after the other person, not for selfish and vain reasons or for gossip.
Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica was once talking to a woman who was complaining about her job. She said that it was unbearable and that she was going to resign. She was under a lot of stress, didn't like her co-workers and didn't like the work. Elder Thaddeus told her to pray about her job and to pray for her co-workers. She went away.
She came back to him at a later date, very excited. She told him, “I've never been so happy at my job. I love the people there, they are so kind and considerate.” What used to be unbearable became happy. What was a struggle became enjoyable. Only through God, through genuine, honest, prayer can we bear with others. Only through God can all things happen.
It is also through God that we know the limits of bearing with one another. In our modern society we have this idea that all things should be tolerated. This is manifestly wrong. St Paul wrote in his First Letter to the Corinthians (6:12) that “All things are lawful unto me but not all things are expedient”. We should never “tolerate” what is unlawful, but should bear with what might not be expedient to the Christian life.
In examining the phrase “if one has a complaint against another, forgive each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive”, St John Chrysostom asked his congregation to remember the suffering of Christ on the Cross. In that scenario, there was no complaining and only forgiveness and love in the face of the taunts of the Pharisees and beatings of the Romans. St Dionysios of Zakynthos is an excellent example of this virtue of forgiveness being applied, forgiving and protecting his brother’s murderer.
This means forgiving with all of our efforts and all of our energy. The same way we love God, with all of our hearts, souls, minds and strength, is how we should be forgiving people, remembering that they are the image and likeness of God. St Paul, through all of his tribulations, lived the advice he gave to the Colossian church.
The verses after the one we examined talk about the family as the place where these passions are to be put to death and where virtue is to be born.
There are some practical steps that can be taken:
To conclude, Metropolitan Anthony Bloom of Sourozh once explained how during one Liturgy he went out to give the homily and said the following: "Yesterday evening a woman with her baby came into the church during services. She was wearing pants and no head covering. One of you criticised her. She left. I don't know who criticised her, but I hereby order them to pray for her and that baby until the end of their days, so that God will save them. Because thanks to one of you she might never again come to church." He turned around and left. That was the whole homily.
There are consequences if we do not implement this verse in our daily lives, and we might not realise that until it is too late.