Tell me please, what is the meaning of the text found in the Gospel of John 20:21-23, where it says that those whose sins you will forgive, their sins will be forgiven. Does this verse justify “forgiveness of sins” by the Orthodox priest?
Firstly let us see …
What is written in the Gospel of John 20:21-23:
So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.” (NASB)
To have a good and accurate understanding of this passage, it is important to see …
The context in which Jesus said these words
After the resurrection of the Lord Jesus …
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” And when He had said this,He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples thenrejoiced when they saw the Lord. (John 20:19-20)(NASB)
The disciples were afraid of the Jews who had crucified Jesus and because of that they shut the doors. Because of their condition, we do not see they had the slightest desire to go and tell the gospel to those who had crucified Jesus or to anyone else. It is in this context that the Lord Jesus came to tell them to have peace in their hearts and then He said that He sent them just as He had been sent by the Father. Lord Jesus had told them that before and then, He would give them the Great Commission, when He repeated the same idea, which is:
And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned. (Mark 16:15-16)(NASB)
So, the Lord Jesus said about forgiveness of sins in the context of sending the disciples to go and preach the gospel to all creation.
How can the disciples forgive sins?
If they go to share the Gospel with people, through faith and obedience to the Gospel and repentance, everyone can receive forgiveness of sins. If we do not preach the gospel, we lack people the possibility of repentance and, as a result we lack them of the forgiveness of their sins. No one can receive forgiveness of his sins from God if he does not have a good understanding of the Gospel message and believes it. Here is the role of the disciples of Christ, to share the gospel.
Let no one believe that he can live how he wants and then, on the day of his burial, the priest will perform a service that will forgive his sins, regardless of how he had lived on the earth and how he had responded to the Gospel message. There are many such people who believe that if they were baptized when they were infants, it does not matter how they live. They think that on the day of their burial the priest will perform a service and he will forgive their sins and that the priest has such an authority that can forgive any sin, regardless of the way he had lived. Let no one be deceived. In the Sacred Scripture it is written:
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, willinherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)(NASB)
If it were possible a forgiveness of sins through the prayer of the priest, or if the priest had authority to forgive anyone, any sin, then the Apostle Paul would not have written those words. So let us take heed to how we walk and live.
It happened to me to attend the funeral of a man who behaved with contempt and malice with the members of his family and he always mocked God and made bad jokes. However, because he was christened as a child in the Orthodox Church he considered himself a Christian and, therefore, before hid death the priest came to give him the opportunity to confess his sins. But he had no power to speak in the presence of the priest, and he died in the same day. On the day of the funeral, I was deeply grieved to see how the priest sang all the way from that man’s house to the church, saying that the dead should come to rest in the tents of the saints and he even told people that the sins of that man were forgiven. What did other learn from this sermon? That they can live anyway and just have a priest who will perform the service and so will be saved. Then, what about the words that the Apostle Paul says in Scripture, “DO NOT BE DECEIVED!” What a deception! Do not believe these fairy tales and seek to wholeheartedly believe in the Lord Jesus Christ to be saved.
Translated by Felicia Rotaru